So, how's everyone feeling the morning after Thanksgiving (for those of you reading this blog from the US, anyway)? On a superficial level, Thanksgiving is always a fun holiday in my family. Food is very important to my family and we are very lucky to have multiple people in our family who are fantastic cooks. This year was my mother's turn to cook Thanksgiving dinner (though even when she doesn't cook the meal on Thanksgiving, she'll always have our immediate family over the weekend after for a second Thanksgiving feast). All I can tell you is that I was more than happy to be a little gluttonous for a day, though I am certainly feeling the full weight of my decisions today. Superficially, that part is great.
As much as I love the excuse to eat, drink, and be merry (and believe me, I'm good at all of those things), it's of far greater importance to me that holidays like Thanksgiving are a really good excuse to put most of the people I care most about in a room for a full day. As I get older, I more fully recognize how lucky I am that I can do that. I am incredibly thankful for having such a tight-knit family that not just loves each other, but likes each other. Life moves quickly, so it is easy to lose sight of the fact that I have so much for which I should be more consciously thankful.
One of those things is this blog and this community. There are very few places like SSTN left on the internet today, where people from all walks of life can respectfully argue, laugh, commiserate, and share fandom in a meaningful way. Way back to the days when I first started writing for It's About The Money, I don't think I ever could have imagined that I'd still be writing for a baseball blog. 6+ years ago now, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do when Paul so graciously offered to take me along for the ride when he decided to take the ashes of the old blog and build SSTN from the foundation up. I am thankful every day that Paul reached out to me to see if I would stick around; I am thankful every day that I have a reason to write and share my love and knowledge of the game with other misplaced baseball rats; and I am incredibly thankful for all of you who read, comment, and write to us, without whom I'd just be ranting into the ether. Thank you all for making SSTN what it is today.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll discuss the impact of the death of Peter Seidler on the Padres' off-season, find MLB comparisons for Jung Hoo Lee, and discuss the hiring of new Bench Coach, Brad Ausmus! Let's get at it:
autmorsautlibertas asks: What do you think the impact of the death of Padre's owner Peter Seidler will have on the Yankee's pursuit of Juan Soto?
I wish more owners were like Peter Seidler. The Padres are not a big market ballclub, and acted like it prior to Seidler's investment in the ballclub. From the time Seidler first threw his hat into the majority ownership ring in 2012, the Padres have spent money in pursuit of a championship, often running payrolls that competed with much larger market ballclubs. Seidler bought out one of his two co-investors in 2020, becoming the club's chairman. Since that time, Seidler consistently raised spending on the on-field product, peaking in 2023 with a $237 million payroll that thumbed its nose at every ballclub in MLB crying poverty. San Diego is a bottom-12 market in the league, yet Seidler consistently had the team in position to post payroll figures in the top-10 in the league. If Hal Steinbrenner ran the team like Peter Seidler, the Yankees would have payroll figures that topped $400 million, which is probably why most owners privately grumbled loudly about Padres' spending according to multiple reports. Peter Seidler was good for the game, and it's a real shame that he's gone.
However, Seidler's spending came at a cost. The Padres have been outside of the league's asset-debt ratio guidelines for at least the last year, and eyebrows have been raised over reports that the Padres took out a large loan at the end of last season partly to cover payroll. Even prior to Seidler's death, reports consistently noted that the Padres would be forced to cut payroll significantly in 2024. Reports have generally insisted that there is a succession plan that eventually involves Seidler's three children, and in the meantime, a temporary chairman has been appointed while the details are sorted out. No one really knows if the remaining ownership votes in the Padres organization have the same appetite for spending; all that is known is that spending has to be cut, and I personally find it hard to believe that the remaining leadership group will be as aggressive as Seidler financially, even if the Padres continue to spend.
I think Seidler's death make it more likely that the Padres will try to shed at least 2-3 salaries this off-season in exchange for young, controllable MLB or near-MLB ready assets. Proir to Seidler's death, I thought there was a strong possibility that the Padres would wait until closer to the trade deadline to make a decision of Juan Soto; now I think that he will certainly be playing in a different uniform in April. I also think that their asking price will drop on players like Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth. I don't think we're looking at a full fire-sale, but the Padres will definitely reshuffle the deck to get their financial house closer to order.
David H. asks: I have read a lot here and elsewhere about how Jung Hoo Lee's game will translate to MLB. What I haven't seen is a comparison of Lee to other KBO stars who have come to the US to try to predict how Lee's game translates. Can you tell me what you think about Lee and also compare him to previous KBO players who have come to the USA?
Here's what I wrote about Lee in SSTN's last Tuesday Discussion:
"There are obviously elements of Lee's profile that would be of great interest to the Yankees. He bats left-handed, he played CF in the KBO, he'll be just 25 next season, he was the KBO MVP in 2022, and he'll likely be a cheaper long-term option when compared to the other outfielders that can be acquired either via trade or free agency. Despite those positives, I'm a pretty hard "no" on Lee after evaluating game film, statistics, and scouting reports from international scouts.
I'll give the cliffnotes version here. Lee's offensive statistics are very impressive on the surface, but those must be taken with a grain of salt given that most talent evaluators peg the KBO's level of talent to be somewhere between AA and AAA in the US. Lee's feel for contact is genuinely impressive, however a scary majority of that contact is on the ground. That wouldn't necessarily be awful were Lee a speed demon on the bases, but his speed is average to slightly above, and he's coming off of a serious ankle injury that cut his 2023 season short. Lee's swing features a severe uppercut plane that will lead to weak contact against the better stuff he'll see stateside versus the stuff he hit against in the KBO. For reference, most of Lee's highlight reel shows him getting pull-side hits on really flat breaking balls and 88-91 MPH fastballs. He's not going to see many pitches like that in the Majors. He also is not regarded as a particular asset on the basepaths, and his defense in CF is considered passable, with some talk already of which corner Lee will play when he's forced out of the middle. MLB Trade Rumors is projecting a free agent deal of 5 years/$50 million, which seems light to me. That's probably about right for the 50th percentile projection for Lee, but someone is going to pay for the 85th percentile outcome when there are enough red flags in Lee's profile to bring the 15th percentile outcome closer to in-play.
For the sake of the growth of the game, I hope Jung Hoo Lee has a successful MLB career, but his profile has so much more risk than upside here. Lee has one carrying tool, his hit tool, and while that is a trait the Yankees need desperately from the left side of the plate, I have significant reservations that Lee's hit tool will translate given all of the other aforementioned factors. I'd leave him for someone else."
I completely accept that Lee's hit tool could be a unicorn that allows him to be successful without other carrying tools, particularly power. In fact, I hope it does - I just don't think that's the likely outcome.
Finding comps for Lee in MLB is an incredibly difficult task because there really hasn't been a player from the KBO who came to MLB with a contact-heavy profile like Lee; most have been power and on-base threats. The closest comp I can come up with is Ha-Seong Kim, the Padres' starting SS.
This is not a perfect comparison by any stretch of the imagination, but let's go with it. Kim was posted at the same age as Lee, and had a reputation as a top-of-the-order hitter in the KBO. Prior to his posting, Kim had settled in as a .300 hitter with some pop in the KBO. For reference, Lee makes more contact, but significantly less hard contact in the air compared to Kim. Outside of his MVP season in 2022, Lee typically runs ISOs in the .130-.170 range, with more frequent power numbers closer to the .130 range. Kim was almost always right around the .200 ISO mark. Here's a pretty typical line for Kim from the KBO in 2017: .302/.376/.513.
Kim was almost unplayable at the plate in his first MLB season. with a .622 OPS. However, he's been significantly better at the plate in his last two seasons, producing the following batting line: .256/.338/.391 and 50 stolen bases. Kim combines this with premium defense at SS, so it works. However, look at the drop in batting line. Kim's power is significantly diminished and he makes much less contact compared to his KBO numbers. Again, Kim is an asset on the bases and is one of the best defenders in the sport, so he is an All-Star caliber player with a slightly above-average batting line.
Lee doesn't have even Kim's modest pop; he isn't an asset on the bases, with average speed (oh, and he is coming off a severe ankle injury); and he's not a premium defender. Lee makes significantly more contact, but to what end? Is Lee a worthwhile player if he hits .290/.340/.350? For reference, that's a similar line to Aaron Hicks (on-base and power), and he'll almost certainly be making Aaron Hicks money...and I know how all of you felt about that scenario. Again, Lee might have a hit tool that transcends the significant rise in competition he'll see going from the KBO to MLB, but he doesn't have another even above-average tool to fall back on if it doesn't like Ha-Seong Kim did when he made the move.
Will I be upset if the Yanks sign Lee? No. Do I think it's the best move they have in their back pocket? Also no. I hope Jung Hoo Lee has a transcendent hit tool that reminds us of Ichiro; I just don't think that's the case.
Sean asks: What's your reaction to signing Brad Ausmus as the bench coach? Is Aaron Boone in trouble?
Aaron Boone should have been in trouble this off-season, so my answer to that part of the question is: who knows?!?
As for evaluating Brad Ausmus as a bench coach...I'm not sure how I feel. I like that the Yanks hired someone with significant dugout experience, both as a player and a coach, though I think they could have found those attributes within their own system. My unfortunate analysis from the outside looking in is that they hired a bench coach who was every bit as bad as a game manager as Aaron Boone.
Yes, Ausmus had some early success with the Tigers, but they had a roster that was capable of winning games agnostic of who was managing. Ausmus consistently made head-scratching tactical decisions that were derided in outlets covering both the team and national baseball. His explanation for those moves were also similarly lacking. The second aspect that gives me pause was that Ausmus' teams had a penchant (as I recall) for scary retaliatory tactics for some really petty infractions. I liked Ausmus as a player, but I really had a strong distaste for how he managed his ballclubs from the outside.
However, people are capable of growth, and Ausmus has been around the game in a lot of places since his early stints as a manager. He has experience, will earn respect from the guys in the clubhouse, and maybe he'll bring a bit more edge to a team sorely lacking in that department. Ausmus is far from my favorite hire, but I'm willing to give him a chance. I don't love this move, but I also don't hate this move as much as I hated hiring Aaron Boone as manager. For now, I'll give it a 3.5/10. I hope Ausmus proves me wrong.