Lastings Milledge Pirates

Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena among league leaders in Japan

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Here’s a quick look at how some major leaguers are faring in Japan. Remember, the Japanese leagues started strongly favoring pitchers with the switch to a new baseball last year. In the six-team Pacific League, 13 pitchers currently qualify for the ERA title and the worst of the bunch has a 2.91 ERA. Three of the 13 have ERAs under 2.00. The Central League has 21 ERA qualifiers. Included there are eight guys over 3.00, but also five guys under 2.00.

I’ll be listing all of the ex-major leaguers currently qualifying for batting and ERA titles, as well as a few other notable names.

Central League hitters
Lastings Milledge: .307/.376/.491, 19 HR, 55 RBI in 430 AB
Alex Ramirez: .300/.325/.479, 16 HR, 63 RBI in 380 AB
Matt Murton: .248/.279/.333, 4 HR, 27 RBI in 375 AB
Wladimir Balentien: .264/.397/.622, 26 HR, 63 RBI in 246 AB
John Bowker: .182/.258/.284, 3 HR, 9 RBI in 176 AB

Milledge is second in the CL in average and third in homers, ranking behind Shinnosuke Abe in both categories. Balentien is the leader in homers despite being 120-200 at-bats behind most of the regulars.

Murton, on the other hand, is having a second straight difficult year after setting the Central League record for hits with 211 as a “rookie” in 2009.

Pacific League hitters
Aarom Baldiris: .271/.358/.414, 9 HR, 47 RBI in 401 AB
Tadahito Iguchi: .265/.347/.398, 9 HR, 52 RBI in 407 AB
Wily Mo Pena: .263/.321/.486, 18 HR, 61 RBI in 358 AB
Esteban German: .258/.335/.330, 3 HR, 52 RBI in 400 AB
Jose Fernandez: .241/.309/.305, 2 HR, 30 RBI in 344 AB
Josh Whitesell: .331/.418/.494, 5 HR, 30 RBI in 154 AB
Chris Carter: .297/.354/.465, 3 HR, 19 RBI in 91 AB

Pena has quieted down a bit since I previously checked in on him, but he’s third in the Pacific League in both homers and slugging. And, frankly. a .321 OBP is pretty good in which the average game result seems to be 3-2.

German is second in the league in steals with 33.

The Pacific League’s best hitter this year has been Korean import Dae-Ho Lee. He’s batting .294/.382/.502 with 21 homers.

Leading the league in average is shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima at .324. He also has 12 homers and 61 RBI in 411 at-bats. He’ll probably make his way to MLB next year as a free agent. The Yankees gained his rights through the posting system last winter, but he opted to return to Japan rather than sign as a utilityman in New York.

Central League pitchers
D.J. Houlton: 9-6, 2.75 ERA, 103/34 K/BB in 118 IP
Jason Standridge: 6-9, 2.86 ERA, 81/34 K/BB in 116 1/3 IP
Randy Messenger: 6-10, 3.05 ERA, 125/54 K/BB in 150 2/3 IP
Bryan Bullington: 6-10, 3.47 ERA, 112/37 K/BB in 137 1/3 IP
Kam Mickolio: 2-4, 18 Sv, 2.52 ERA, 50/12 K/BB in 50 IP
Scott Mathieson: 2-0, 10 Sv, 1.80 ERA, 46/11 K/BB in 40 IP
Dennis Sarfate: 2-4, 9 Sv, 2.51 ERA, 40/20 K/BB in 43 IP

I still believe both Mickolio and Mathieson would have turned into quality MLB relievers. Of course, they’re young enough that they still could someday.

Houlton’s 2.75 ERA puts him 11th of the 21 qualifiers. Kenta Maeda leads the Central League with a 1.56 ERA in 162 innings.

Pacific League pitchers
Brian Wolfe: 8-9, 2.55 ERA, 67/.34 K/BB in 123 1/3 IP
Seth Greisinger: 9-6, 2.67 ERA, 88/19 K/BB in 124 2/3 IP
Hideki Okajima: 0-1, 2 Sv, 0.69 ERA, 32/5 K/BB in 39 1/3 IP
Brian Falkenborg: 0-1, 13 Sv, 1.89 ERA, 24/8 K/BB in 19 IP
Darrell Rasner: 1-2, 6 Sv, 4.13 ERA, 21/8 K/BB in 28 1/3 IP
Randy Williams: 1-2, 4 Sv, 1.53 ERA, 32/16 K/BB in 29 1/3 IP

Greisinger got off to a great start, but he’s now just 11th of the 13 ERA qualifiers. Okajima leads the way in relief ERA. You may remember that he signed with the Yankees last winter, only to have his contract voided after he failed his physical.

Two elite Cuban players defect

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Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com just reported that Yulieski Gurriel & Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who are brothers, reportedly defected and will be seeking MLB deals. There aren’t any details yet, but Sanchez will be updating with a full story that we’ll link here when he has it.

Yulieski is a 31-year old third baseman and, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler he was the No. 1 player remaining in Cuba. He was one of the Cuban players who was permitted to play in Japan recently, and he just put up a .305/.349/.536 season with 11 homers in 62 games for the Yokohama Bay Stars and has continued to rake in Cuba. He is likely major league ready right this instant. He’d be an unrestricted free agent given his age and team’s signing him would not be subject to international bonus pool limits.

Lourdes is only 22 years old. He’s hit .269/.355/.414 in 1036 Serie Nacional plate appearances and Badler thinks he has 20-homer potential in the majors one day. He’s currently a shortstop, but is probably destined for a corner. He is young enough to where he would be subject to bonus pool limits. Several teams have already exceeded those limits for the current signing period, limiting the number of teams who could sign him. If, however, it takes MLB a long time to clear him as a free agent — and with immigration issues and the like, that’s very possible — he may not be eligible to be signed until next year, which could bring some other teams into the fold.

 

Indians close to signing ex-Nationals reliever Craig Stammen

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Right-hander Craig Stammen, who spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Nationals, is expected to sign with the Indians.

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Indians “hope to finalize a deal” with Stammen today, adding veteran depth to the bullpen. It’ll likely be a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Stammen missed nearly all of last season following elbow surgery and the Nationals non-tendered him, but he’s scheduled to be ready for spring training. After struggling as a starter early in his career he’s posted a 3.02 ERA in 280 innings out of the bullpen, so if healthy it’d be a nice addition for Cleveland.

A Mexican team wins the Caribbean Series for the third time in four years

Mexican players celebrate their victory in the Caribbean Series baseball final against Aragua Tigres of Venezuela, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. Designated hitter Jorge Vazquez hit a game-winning home run leading off the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, lifting Mexico's Venados de Mazatlan to a 5-4 come-from-behind victory and the championship of the Caribbean Series. (AP Photo/Roberto Guzman)
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For those who aren’t familiar, Serie del Caribe, or the Caribbean Series, is the highest club level baseball tournament in Latin America, pitting the champions of the winter leagues in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela against one another in a bacchanalia of baseball that, if there was justice in the world, we’d all be watching instead of football.

This year’s installment ended last night with Mexico’s Mazatlan Venados beating Venezuela’s Aragua Tigres 5-4 in the final game at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Jorge Vazquez — who Yankees fans may remember from a few years back — provided the winning margin when he hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning.

This is the third Serie del Caribe title for a Mexican club in the past four years, with Naranjeros de Hermosillo winning in 2014 and Yaquis de Obregón winning in 2013. Pinar del Río from Cuba won it last winter. This is the first time the Venados have won it.

As we noted yesterday, this was longtime MLB starter Freddy Garcia‘s last game. He gave up four hits and allowed two earned runs over five and a third innings for the Tigres, getting a no-decision.

Report: Teams reluctant to gamble on Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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In Saturday’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo suggests that free agent Cliff Lee is seeking a guaranteed major league deal between $6 and $8 million plus incentives. That is turning some otherwise interested teams away, as the lefty is still recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 31, 2014.

Last month, Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said the pitcher would need “a perfect fit” to pitch in 2016. He also noted that Lee has begun a full offseason throwing program.

In his most recent season, Lee compiled a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings for the Phillies. The Phillies had signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010 but declined a club option for the 2016 season, instead buying him out for $12.5 million.