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Giants Finally Make a Free Agent Splash with Jung Hoo Lee Signing

Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

After they were left at the altar by Aaron Judge and objected to the results of Carlos Correa’s physical last offseason, the San Francisco Giants have finally made a long-term splash in free agency with the addition of 25-year-old Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee 이정후, who is joining the team on a six-year, $113 million deal, per Jon Heyman of The New York Post. The contract has a player opt-out after four years.

Lee has been evaluated as a Top 100-quality prospect at FanGraphs since the 2020 KBO season. He was the first player in KBO history to go straight from high school to their top level of play and won Rookie of the Year as an 18-year-old in 2017. He has a career .340/.407/.491 line in the KBO, and has made elite rates of contact (roughly 5.5% strikeout rate and 11% walk rate combined the last two seasons) while playing quality center field defense.

Lee immediately becomes the best defensive center fielder in a crowded Giants outfield group that was toward the bottom of the league in production last year. He’s a plus runner with above-average range and ball skills, and a plus arm. He did suffer a fractured ankle that effectively ended his season in July (he made one pinch-hit plate appearance toward the end of the year), and the deal is still pending a physical, but as The Athletic noted, he reportedly conducted agility drills for teams recently. Read the rest of this entry »

On San Diego’s Juan Soto Trade Return and Next Steps

Michael King
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Shouldered with the needle-threading task of simultaneously cutting payroll and rebuilding a pitching staff thinned out by the departure of several key free agents, the Padres traded superstar Juan Soto and Gold Glove-caliber center fielder Trent Grisham to the Yankees on Wednesday in exchange for three big league arms — righties Michael King, Randy Vásquez, and Jhony Brito — as well as a fourth who is nearly ready for primetime in prospect Drew Thorpe and backup catcher Kyle Higashioka. Ben Clemens did a full analysis on the impact that the 25-year-old Soto, one of baseball’s best hitters, will have on the Yankees. I’m going to dive deeper into the arms headed to the Gaslamp District and talk about how the Padres might go about finishing their offseason to-do list.

Most readers are probably aware that a mandate to shed payroll was a driving factor for this trade from San Diego’s perspective. The club’s sudden shift in financial direction occurred in the wake of the death of owner Peter Seidler. The trade also addresses a large portion of the Padres on-field baseball needs, though it also creates massive new holes in their lineup and defensive alignment where Soto and Grisham used to be. The Friars will need to fill or upgrade at least two or three spots of their currently-projected lineup if they want to compete with the defending NL champion Diamondbacks and reigning division-winning Dodgers in 2024, and they probably also need another starting pitcher or two to round out their rotation. Shedding Soto’s salary likely created some space to do so, but given the Padres’ financial constraints, perhaps not enough to solve all of these problems via free agency. There may be internal candidates, especially on the position player side, who can contribute at the league minimum salary in 2024; I’ll get to those prospects later.

Let’s start with who came back to San Diego and how they fit into an overhauled pitching staff. Prior to the trade, our Padres rotation projection looked rough. Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish were fortified by 27-year-old knuckleballer Matt Waldron, and walk-prone MLB virgin Jay Groome. The free-agent departures of Nick Martinez, Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, and reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell, who pitched a combined 570 innings in 2023, left the Padres in dire need of impact and depth to have a functional and competitive pitching staff in 2024. Even if one believes (as I do) that prospect Jairo Iriarte is talented enough to make a meaningful near-term impact, the Padres still badly needed to add several pitchers to their big league staff. This trade gets them most of the way there, as all four of the pitchers acquired for Soto could reasonably be expected to pitch in the big leagues next season. Read the rest of this entry »

White Sox Stabilize Rotation With KBO MVP Erick Fedde

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday evening, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the Chicago White Sox are signing KBO kickback starting pitcher Erick Fedde to a two-year, $15 million contract. Fedde had an incredible 2023 season for the NC Dinos, posting a 2.00 ERA in 180.1 IP while striking out 209 and walking just 35. He was named the KBO’s MVP and won their equivalent to the Cy Young. Read the rest of this entry »

Brewers Reportedly Nearing Contract Extension with Jackson Chourio

Curt Hogg/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK

Over the past few days, industry news-breakers (beginning with Ken Rosenthal) began to report that the Milwaukee Brewers and top prospect Jackson Chourio are nearing a contract extension. Chourio, who turns 20 in March, has been among the very best prospects in baseball for the better part of the past 18 months. He turned 19 just before the start of the 2023 season and slashed .280/.336/.467 in 122 games at Double-A Biloxi before the Brewers gave him a six-game shot of espresso at Triple-A Nashville in late-September. His power, speed and, more recently, his improvements on defense give him rare upside as a 30/30 threat and plus center field defender.

The complete details of the contract aren’t known, but Curt Hogg of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first suggested that it would be something like an eight-year, $80 million deal. Adam McCalvy of reported that Chourio and the Brewers agreed to a structure and length of eight years, with two club options that would bring the total length to 10 years if exercised. Earlier today, Jon Heyman of the New York Post tweeted that the guaranteed amount will total $82 million, accounting for a $2 million buyout of the Brewers’ club options, while McCalvy reported that the club options plus incentives could push the total value into the $140 million range. If we assume that Chourio will make the Opening Day roster, this deal will cover what would have otherwise been his six years of pre-free agency service, two of his free agent years, and potentially two more. Even if the Brewers pick up the two team options, Chourio will hit free agency again before he turns 30. It’s also worth noting that the big money, team-option portion of Chourio’s contract doesn’t kick in until after Christian Yelich’s monster contract has expired. Read the rest of this entry »

Board Update: International Professional Players

Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for another cycle of prospect lists, and as I’ve become accustomed to doing for the last few seasons, I’m starting with scouting reports on pro players in foreign leagues, with a focus on players available for MLB free agency this offseason. On The Board, you can see a fresh batch of scouting reports and evaluations of relevant players from Nippon Professional Baseball, the Korea Baseball Organization, and the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan, as well as reports on some young players I’ve identified as potentially impactful long-term prospects. I’ll update the amateur portion of this list prior to signing day in January, but any player from the upcoming 2024 class who I had already written up for this year’s Prospect Week remains on there. For those who need a crash course on the age- and pro experience-driven lines of demarcation that dictate how MLB teams sign international players, I’d point you to a number of glossary entries, including those on international free agency for those in Asian pro leagues, international amateur free agency and bonus pool restrictions, the Japanese posting system, and the Korean posting system.

It can be overwhelming to sift through so many different types of players on that section of The Board — it’s a real apples and oranges situation when we’re talking about some guys who are 30 and others who are still teenagers — so I’m going to break most of them up into more digestible subgroups below. You’ll notice that some players appear across multiple categories. The Board has each player’s full scouting report and tool grades — think of this as more of a table of contents. Read the rest of this entry »

40-Man Roster Deadline Reaction and Analysis: National League

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I covered the American League half of the flurry of transactional activity that occurred as a result of the 40-man roster and non-tender deadlines. Is any one move here as impactful as signing a Yoshinobu Yamamoto or a Matt Chapman? No, but when your favorite team experiences a rash of injuries in June, whether or not they have the depth to scrap and compete is often dictated by the people and processes that surround this day. Below are my thoughts on the National League, with some quick scouting snippets on most of the added players and thoughts about roster construction where I had something to say.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks lone addition was lefty Blake Walston, a former $2.5 million high school signee who, despite being young for his class and physically projectable as an amateur, has seen his fastball velocity plateau and slightly decline since he signed. He’s had fits and starts where he’s thrown harder, but for the most part, Walston’s fastball still sits 89-92 mph and his performance peripherals took a nosedive in 2023, though part of that was likely because of the PCL hitting environment. The lanky 22-year-old is still a fair long-term prospect because of his age and what one could reasonably hope will still be late-arriving physicality, but for now, I’d consider him at the very back of Arizona’s 40-man starting pitching depth chart. Read the rest of this entry »

In Bummer Move, Braves Land Lefty Reliever for Pile of Ex-Prospects

Aaron Bummer
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Late Thursday night, after the final horn had sounded on the last West Coast NHL game, new White Sox general manager Chris Getz consummated his first trade in his new role, sending sinker-balling lefty reliever Aaron Bummer to Atlanta for a five-player variety pack of “second division” players and reclamation projects. The new White Sox are headlined by 26-year-old 2019 All-Star righty Michael Soroka, 28-year-old infielder Nicky Lopez, and 25-year-old lefty starter Jared Shuster, all of whom can be reasonably expected to impact the 2024 squad. Chicago also acquired 25-year-old infielder Braden Shewmake, who is also on the 40-man roster, and 2023 undrafted free agent starter Riley Gowens, who is more of a developmental project from the University of Illinois. Read the rest of this entry »

40-Man Roster Deadline Reaction and Analysis: American League

© Angela Piazza/Caller-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK

This week’s 40-man roster deadline was less eventful than usual (we only had one trade on deadline day), but as always, a number of young players became big leaguers in a certain sense, and teams had no choice but to indicate what they think of lots of fringe prospects who they either did or did not choose to roster. This day of clerical activity is the culmination of the efforts of the players themselves, the people in player development who have helped turn them into big leaguers, and the scouting and decision-making portions of each org that put their stamp of approval on the prospects. Is any one move here as impactful as signing a Yoshinobu Yamamoto or a Matt Chapman? No, but when your favorite team experiences a rash of injuries in June, whether or not they have the depth to scrap and compete is often dictated by the people and processes that surround this day. I’m more focused on analyzing roster depth, fit and flexibility in this space than on scouting players (especially when they’re star prospects you already know well). I’ll have a separate post on the National League. Read the rest of this entry »

Brewers Add to 2024 Infield Mix With Oliver Dunn Trade

Dave Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers made a swap ahead of this year’s 40-man roster deadline, the last day teams have to either add eligible minor league players to their 40-man roster or expose them to December’s Rule 5 Draft. In this trade, the Brewers acquired 26-year-old second baseman Oliver Dunn and added him to their 40-man roster, while the Phillies received two prospects in return, 21-year-old infielder Robert Moore and 20-year-old outfielder Hendry Mendez.

Let’s start with Milwaukee’s end of this, as we’re most likely to see 2024 big league impact from Dunn, who is coming off an Arizona Fall League stint in which he won the league’s Breakout Prospect award. Dunn, whose brother Ross is in the Twins system, was a Yankees 2019 11th round pick out of Utah. He hit .196 coming out of the lost 2020 season, and spent a significant portion of both 2021 and 2022 on the IL dealing with multiple injuries, including a fractured jaw, an abdomen strain, and a hamstring strain.

The Phillies drafted him in the minor league phase of the 2022 Rule 5 Draft and Dunn had a huge power breakout in 2023 at Double-A Reading, where he hit .271/.396/.506 and slugged 21 homers, more than he had hit throughout his entire career entering 2023. Reading is a hitter’s haven and Dunn was in his age-25 season, so there are good reasons to be skeptical of his sudden change in output, but his underlying power metrics also took a leap, with his average and peak exit velocities (92 mph and 112 mph, respectively) cresting above the big league average. This isn’t gigantic, impact power, but it’s meaningful pop for a second baseman. Dunn swings and misses quite a bit, especially within the strike zone (you can see him struggling with velo up and away from him, a Fall League theme for Dunn, in the video below), but he’s a dangerous all-fields hitter because of his power and ability to catch some fastballs deep in the hitting zone and punish them the other way. Read the rest of this entry »

Kelly Carves Rangers in Diamondbacks’ Game 2 Rout as Snakes Even Series

Merrill Kelly
Arizona Republic

One sleepless night after Game 1 was ripped from them in heartbreaking fashion, the Diamondbacks arose from the canvas in Arlington and swung back at the Rangers en route to a dominant 9–1 victory, evening the World Series at a game apiece as the series heads to Phoenix. Arizona’s effort was led by a masterful performance from Scottsdale Desert Mountain High School and Arizona State alum Merrill Kelly, who struck out nine across seven surgical innings en route to the win. The Diamondbacks maintained a modest lead until the final three frames, when the bottom third of their order, which combined to reach base eight times on the night, piled up six runs.

Kelly is a prodigal son of sorts, a former Rays draft pick who left affiliated ball in the U.S. for four seasons in Korea before returning to MLB and his hometown Diamondbacks in 2019. Ironically, the particulars of the postseason schedule and of Arizona’s run to the Fall Classic have prevented Kelly from making a (literal) home start during this postseason, but he looked right at home in Texas on Saturday evening as he carved up one of the season’s most potent offenses. Read the rest of this entry »