A Tale of Two Players

» 15 August 2009 » In mlb prospects, nichibei »

Two Players

One way or another, Stephen Strasburg is going to make history. He’ll either sign with the Nationals for a record-setting bonus, or he won’t and something unprecedented would happen. The idea of Strasburg going to Japan in an attempt to attain free agency was floated and quickly discredited, and rightfully so. The details of why it wouldn’t work have been thoroughly documented so there’s no point in rehashing them here, so it’ll suffice to say that Strasburg is unlikely to get the contract that Scott Boras is seeking from a more restrictive NPB system.

Last week we got the news that Texas Rangers draftee Tanner Scheppers is also considering Japan. Unlike Strasburg, we have some evidence that Scheppers is actually taking action to pursue Japan — he apparently has a work out scheduled for “at least half a dozen NPB teams” (hat tip to John Brooks). Scheppers is a little different from Strasburg — he isn’t nearly as highly touted, he was drafted and unsigned last year by Pittsburgh, and he’s spent the last season playing for the St. Paul Saints, with guys like current Hanshin Tiger Craig Brazell. Scheppers was also drafted from a professional league, so the Rangers get until next year to sign him. Still, if Scheppers’ goal is simply to get a bigger bonus out of the Rangers, a move to Japan is unlikely to achieve his desired result.

Two Other Players

It’s worth pointing out that Strasburg and Scheppers aren’t really in uncharted territory here. In 2002, Cincinnati Reds draftee Mark Schramek tried out with the old Orix Blue Wave after failing to draw an offer he was happy with. Gary Garland recalled the Schramek story in an editorial when the idea of Strasburg to Japan idea was first floated:

I got on the imaginary phone in my head and dialed up Mr. Peabody to ask him to lend me his wayback machine. I set the controls for the heart of the 2002 season, where I came upon one Mark Schramek, who had just been drafted in the first round out of the University of Texas at San Antonio as an infielder by Cincinnati. The Reds, not being entirely forthcoming with the readies that Master Schramek had his heart set on, decided to journey to Japan and contemplate a season with the Orix Blue Wave as leverage to squeeze more money out of the historic Ohio nine. Orix later responded to Schramek’s overtures by demanding that he sign a nine year contract with them. This was pro forma, as Orix was not happy being used as an “ateuma (that is, a horse that is used to get a stud horse all hot and bothered in preparation to be bred with another mare in hopes of producing successful horse racing offspring)” and basically offered Schramek a deal they knew he would refuse.

Schramek went on to have a forgettable four-year run in the minors, never advancing beyond 2A.

A guy that actually kind of made it work was Matt Randel. Randel was not a prospect of even Schramek’s caliber, but  managed to get an NPB contract, and made a few appearances in Japan before having a couple of respectable seasons in Korea. The following summary is taken from the BR Bullpen:

Matt Randel is a highly unusual American pitcher in that over 80% of his baseball career has been in Asia.

Randel was an 84th-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1995 amateur draft. He went on to college instead of signing, but dropped out. He got his big break in 1999 when he tried out for the Daiei Hawks and was signed. He allowed hits to 2 of the 3 batters he faced for Daiei in 2000.

Randel next was picked up by the Fort Worth Cats, going 4-5 with a 3.05 ERA in 2002. Had he qualified, he would have been among the Central Baseball League leaders in ERA.

The Yomiuri Giants signed Randel after his stint in Texas and he was 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA in 3 games for them in 2003. The next year, the 27-year-old was 3-2 with a save and a 5.45 ERA in 24 games, his busiest season in Japan. He did strike out 42 batters in 39 2/3 innings.

After leaving Japan, Randel caught on with the Doosan Bears of South Korea. He debuted in the Korea Baseball Organization in 2005 with a 12-7, 3.25 record despite allowing 163 hits in 149 2/3 IP. In 2006, the Doosan hurler posted a 16-8, 2.95 record.

Randel’s salary was unlikely to be much higher than the league minimum for any of the time he spent in Japan. The Hawks made a few other international signings around the time they had Randel, notably Anderson Gomes.

So we have some anecdotal evidence showing that NPB teams are unlikely to partake in money games with blue-chip prospects, but will perhaps take on lower-risk, lower-reward guys. It would be great to see more international prospects developed in Japan, and there are some likely some prospects who profile well to the opportunites Japanese and Asian baseball can offer, but that won’t be the blue chip guys.

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  1. Patrick
    15/08/2009 at 3:47 pm Permalink

    Good post. One quick – and very minor – thing. Scheppers played in the American Association last year, not the Northern League. I think some of the teams moved from the Northern League, and it probably doesn’t matter either way, but whatever.

  2. Patrick
    16/08/2009 at 1:17 am Permalink

    Non-American foreign players are signed (drafted?) fairly regularly as ikusei players these days.

  3. Patrick
    John Brooks
    16/08/2009 at 5:05 am Permalink

    Yeah, I wonder how Alfonso Soriano slipped under the radar of MLB teams?

    Though recent reports say that Boras will either send his star pupil to NPB or an independent league, if its the $$ that Boras is after he be better sending him to an independent league or better yet just returning to San Diego State. Out of the two Scheppers or more likely IMHO to be the one to play in Japan, but then the league will not like be used to get leverage at MLB, though would achieve its goal of a reverse-Tazawa incident, maybe forcing MLB teams to get more serious about signing talent, but until NPB is willing to open the checkbooks for unproven college or indy league players regardless of the talent behind them I don’t see it happen, and even if they found the insane money I’m sure the player’s association in NPB wouldn’t be happy that a team through a lot of money at a guy like Strasburg.

    Now, if Scheppers and Strasburg are going with a goal of trying to play in a highly professional league of high-caliber, then there on the right track. There just not going to make as much money as in MLB. Though, if they return they also be a free agent which could put a damper in MLB’s draft then again I’ve pointed out that Strasburg should be allowed to play where he wants. If that what he wants and is willing to demand less money there ought to be at least one NPB team out there willing to take a chance.

  4. Patrick
    17/08/2009 at 10:05 pm Permalink

    Sean — you are correct. The Saints changed their league affiliation in 2006: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Paul_Saints. Thanks for the feedback, I do my best but errors will slip in from time to time.

    Simon — you are correct, but with exception of some of the Taiwanese guys, so far NPB teams haven’t gone after top international talent.

    John — Strasburg just signed so it’s moot. Scheppers has more time to sign so we’ll see how it all plays out, though I suspect if he does make the move no one in MLB will lose much sleep over it. Al-So played in the Carp’s Domican Academy before moving to Japan. That doesn’t explain why the MLB teams passed on him though.

  5. Patrick
    John Brooks
    17/08/2009 at 10:15 pm Permalink

    Yeah, Patrick, I’ve been following closely on Twitter since like 7 PM EST on Strasburg. My point was if someone wanted to skip the draft and become a free agent, then signing in NPB would succeed in doing so as MLB would have to recogonize them as a free agent.

    Scheppers, since he played in a proffessional league I think he has till August next year or maybe not even a deadline I can’t exactly remember. Though if like Strasburg and his goal is money, then MLB is his destination. If his goal is choose what team he wants, then NPB is that choice.

    As for Soriano, yeah he played in the Carp’s Dominican Academy, though you think with the emphasis MLB teams put on players from the Caribbean that at least one MLB team take a chance on him. Because I know the Yankees who took a chance on him after Hiroshima refused to give him a raise, their investment paid off big time in terms of offense and in the acquistion of Alex Rodriquez. I can’t say how Soriano would done if he did if he remained in Hiroshima, but it be an interesting what if that we can only speculate to we’re blue in the face now.

  6. Patrick
    John Brooks
    19/08/2009 at 3:04 pm Permalink

    Well now, Bud Selig wants a worldwide draft and capped bonuses which owners will never go for. Also there’s no way the MLBPA goes along with this in the next CBA in 2011.

    Source: MLB Trade Rumors

  7. Patrick
    19/08/2009 at 3:54 pm Permalink

    Why wouldn’t the owners go for that? I think the players would be a harder sell.

    I’d still love to see a system that forces teams to compete on issues other than money (like being a well-run organization).