On New Year’s Eve on Thursday, Christopher Meola reported on Twitter that the Dodgers signed Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda to a contract. Details trickled out slowly and were confirmed by Joel Sherman of the New York Post on Saturday: the contract is eight years in length with a guarantee of $25 million, plus plenty of incentives. Exact figures for the incentives are not yet known, but they offer an additional $10-12 million per year, according to Meola.
With the guarantee coming out to an average annual value of $3.125 million, the Dodgers would pay Maeda just over $15 million per year at most if he hits every incentive. If Maeda flounders, then the Dodgers only have to pay him a relatively insignificant amount of money. In short, this is an extremely low risk signing for the Dodgers and Maeda is gambling big time on his ability to transition seamlessly into the major leagues. It’s worth noting that the Dodgers also have to pay Maeda’s previous team, the Hiroshima Carp of the Japan Central League, $20 million for the right to have negotiated with Maeda, but that will be paid in installments, not all at once.
Maeda, who turns 28 in April, posted a 2.09 ERA with 175 strikeouts and 41 walks over 206 1/3 innings with the Carp this past season. 2015 was Maeda’s sixth consecutive season in which he posted a 2.94 ERA or lower. Though impressive, Japan offers inferior competition to that of Major League Baseball, so the stats don’t translate one-to-one. Clay Davenport, formerly of Baseball Prospectus, developed “Davenport Translations” which attempt to show how a player would have fared in the majors given his numbers elsewhere, be it at Double-A, Triple-A, or in foreign leagues. The 2015 translations aren’t out yet, but we can look at his 2014 performance for an idea:
- 2014 actual, in Japan: 2.60 ERA, 164 H, 12 HR, 161 K, 41 BB, 187 IP
- 2014 translation: 4.09 ERA, 186 H, 14 HR, 110 K, 51 BB, 180 2/3 IP
The low guarantee of Maeda’s contract may help deflate initial expectations heading into the 2016 season, but given the success previous pitchers have had coming over from Japan – including Masahiro Tanaka and Hisashi Iwakuma – Maeda may come up a bit short. If Maeda essentially becomes another Iwakuma, the Dodgers will have hit the mark and then some.
Fantasy owners, too, should proceed with caution. Draft Maeda with the intent on shoring up the back of a starting rotation; don’t draft him to lead it or serve as a No. 2.
Braves Ink Kendrick
On Thursday, the Braves signed pitcher Kyle Kendrick to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring, adding potential depth to the starting rotation. Kendrick, who had a rough 2015 season with the Rockies, will attempt to put together a rebound effort to sustain his major league career.
Kendrick, 31, posted an ugly 6.32 ERA with 80 strikeouts and 45 walks in 142 1/3 innings. Despite missing the entire month of August with inflammation in his right shoulder, Kendrick still led the National League in earned runs allowed (100) and the majors in home runs allowed (33).
Kendrick put up a few solid seasons with the Phillies between 2007-14, but they weren’t sustainable due to mediocre strikeout and walk rates combined with a propensity to issue homers. Kendrick was one of 25 pitchers to issue 140-plus homers in that span of time, but of those 25, only Ted Lilly accrued fewer innings.
Needless to say, though Kendrick provides value in rotation insurance, the right-hander is safe to ignore for fantasy purposes.
Infante Has Elbow Surgery
Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reported on Saturday that Royals infielder Omar Infante underwent surgery to remove bone spurs in his right elbow. He is expected to be ready when spring training begins in February. Infante dealt with shoulder problems during the 2015 season, which the Royals believed developed as a result of compensating for the ailing elbow.
Infante, 34, hit a dreadful .220/.234/.318 with two home runs, 44 RBI, and 39 runs scored in 455 plate appearances for the Royals this past season. He had been a reliable hitter, putting up numbers at the league average or higher between 2008-13, but his meager .632 OPS output in 2014 marked the start of a steep decline.
The Royals traded for Ben Zobrist to supplant Infante last season, and it worked, as the Royals beat the Mets to win their first championship since 1985. Zobrist, however, left in free agency and signed with the Cubs, so the Royals don’t have anyone better at second base. It’s possible the club could still add someone between now and the end of spring training, but as of right now, Infante is slated to be the regular second baseman.
Infante is under contract through 2017, earning $7.75 million this year and $8 million next with a $2 million buyout for 2018. Given his poor performance and injury woes over the last two seasons plus his remaining contract, the Royals will have trouble moving Infante to another club unless they eat almost all of his salary. In that case, Infante likely provides more value to the Royals simply staying around, even if he is eventually relegated to a back-up role.
Second base is an offensively-thin position – only catchers and shortstops posted a lower OPS in aggregate in 2015 – but fantasy owners should leave Infante alone to begin the season. If he shows signs of a solid bounce-back campaign, those in AL-only leagues can make a pounce. In such an effort, Infante’s value would likely come almost entirely in the form of batting average.
Quick Hits: The Rangers signed catcher Michael McKenry to a minor league deal on Wednesday … The Braves signed pitcher Alex Torres to a minor league contract on Wednesday … The Marlins are reportedly considering low-cost options for the starting rotation, including free agents Doug Fister, Cliff Lee, and Edwin Jackson … The White Sox have interest in free agent outfielders Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes but aren’t believed to be willing to commit to either player beyond three years … The Rockies are reportedly pursuing free agent outfielder Gerardo Parra … The Orioles have interest in free agent outfielder Denard Span, but due to concerns pertaining to his durability, the club isn’t willing to commit beyond one year … The Padres are having “ongoing discussions” with the agent of free agent infielder Ian Desmond … The Astros haven’t had any discussions on a contract extension with starter Dallas Keuchel, according to his agent, Darek Braunecker … Braunecker also said that his client, free agent pitcher Cliff Lee, would need a “perfect” situation to pitch in 2016 … The Brewers should be expected to move outfielder Khris Davis by the July non-waiver trade deadline, according to a report … The Nationals are still trying to trade reliever Drew Storen … The Braves are working to trade either Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher.