Russia + Baseball = Snickers?
With MLB Spring Training just starting, and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in full swing, this Japanese Snickers commercial (featuring Russian pop duo t.A.T.u) seems totally appropriate.
Since today is Nolan Ryan’s 67th birthday, I thought I’d re-post video of the time Nolan Ryan faced his son Reid in a baseball game. The game took place on April 2nd, 1991 at Disch-Falk Field in Austin, Texas as an exhibition between the Texas Rangers (who were just wrapping up their Spring Training schedule) and the University of Texas Longhorns.
Growing up in Austin, I can vaguely recall the hype surrounding the game and how it was a pretty big deal to see the Rangers come to town. (The fact the game was televised live says something, as this was a rare occurrence for Texas Longhorns baseball games. Note also the large amount of media during the pre-game festivities.)
Here are some other notes and tidbits:
-Ruth Ryan, mother of Reid and husband of Nolan, throws out the ceremonial first pitch.
-Each team sent a Ryan to the mound. Reid, 19, took the mound for the University of Texas and the Texas Rangers sent Nolan, 44, who was preparing to start his 25th(!) season in the Majors. (Nolan would go on to play two more seasons before retiring in 1993 at the age of 46.)
-Nolan Ryan’s youngest son, Reese Ryan, also makes an appearance as the first base coach for the Rangers.
-To presumably make the game more even, the Rangers sprinkled their lineup with minor leaguers and used wooden bats. The Longhorns were allowed to use metal.
-Steve Buechele, who plays 3rd base for the Rangers in this game, was recently hired to become the head coach for the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affliate, the Round Rock Express. That team is partly owned and run by the Ryan family.
-Calvin Murray, Shane Halter, and Brooks Kieschnick played in the game for the Longhorns and later enjoyed successful MLB careers.
-Reid Ryan would eventually transfer to Texas Christian University and was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 17th round of the 1994 MLB draft. He played two years in the minors, never advancing beyond High A ball, before retiring. He is currently the President of Business Operations for the Houston Astros.
-The video is around an hour in length and cuts off around the top of the 4th. The final score was Rangers 12, Longhorns 5.
The Somewhat True Story of Tarrik Brock Told Using His Baseball Cards
Last week the Houston Astros made an announcement:
Astros make official what http://t.co/MCrT7Pxynv reported early today. Tarrik Brock is new 1B coach and Eduardo Perez not returning.— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart)
If your response was “Who?,” that’s completely natural. Tarrik Brock isn’t a well-known baseball name, so this is my attempt to tell the kind of true Tarrik Brock story using his baseball cards. Enjoy.
Can the Astros sign Masahiro Tanaka?
By now you’ve probably heard his name, but if not, get ready to hear it a lot in the coming days/weeks/months. Masahiro Tanaka. He’s the 25 year-old Japanese pitcher who many are comparing to a second coming of Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish. Tanaka, if posted, likely represents the best starting pitcher on the free agent market in a fairly thin class this winter. Could the Houston Astros, who are in desperate need of a front line starter and have money to spend, be a potential player in signing the young pitcher? Let’s look at some of the obstacles they’ll face.
First, and perhaps most importantly, it’s really anyone’s guess as to whether Tanaka will even be posted by his parent club, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Under current Nippon Pro Baseball free agency rules, Japanese players have two free agency groups: “Domestic,” meaning signing among teams in the NPB, and “International,” which is what typically applies to players wanting to play in the MLB. A player can become a domestic free agent after seven to eight years or become an international free agent after nine. Tanaka, who has already spent seven years in the NPB, can be posted by his parent club now, but he is at Rakuten’s (or another other NPB team’s) mercy until those nine seasons have been fulfilled. That’s important here because of what happened one month ago.
In November 2013, the Rakuten Golden Eagles shocked the Japanese baseball establishment by winning their first ever Japan Series title over the vaunted Yomiuri Giants. Masahiro Tanaka was brilliant, posting a 1.27 ERA over 212 IP with a perfect 24-0 record during the regular this season. In addition to the series trophy, he took home a Sawamura award (the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young award) for his pitching efforts. Rakuten, no doubt seeing the value in their ace, may be more focused on trying to replicate their success in 2014 versus selling now and having to fill that void on the less-than-robust Japanese free agent market for the upcoming season.
Another disadvantage to Rakuten is that they’d be forced to accept a reduced $20 million posting fee for Tanaka. Even though that amount would likely pay for the team’s entire 2014 payroll (and then some), it might not be enough to sway parent company Rakuten, which is quite successful in Japan as the #1 online good retailer, and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, who according to Forbes sports a net worth of $6.4 billion. Long story short: Rakuten is not hurting for the money the way that other NPB teams are.
But, just for fun, let’s assume the cards align and that Tanaka is posted. That $20 million posting fee means that it’s possible a lot more MLB teams might be interested than when it was assumed Tanaka’s fee might be somewhere in the $50-75 million range earlier this year. The Yankees have already expressed interest and there’s no doubt that the deep pockets of the L.A. Dodgers could also be in play. And those are just the teams we do know about. Could ten MLB teams make a bid? Could twenty? Without the posting fee going against a team’s luxury tax, and without a team having to forfeit a high draft pick to sign an international free agent, there’s no doubt that the competition will be intense for Tanaka’s services.
By now, we’re assuming that the Astros are at least going to agree on the $20 million fee. The next obstacle is actually putting up the money to sign Masahiro Tanaka. Let’s look at his closest comp, Yu Darvish, and see what he received in 2012:
Nippon Ham received a posting fee of $51.7 million from the Texas Rangers for exclusive negotiating rights. The Texas Rangers then paid Darvish a six year, $60 million contract. All together, Texas spent $111.7 million.
That’s important here because Tanaka’s agent will, most likely, be looking for something similar to the total value of Darvish’s contract. With a lower posting fee of $20 million this year, a winning contract might look something like $90-95 million over six years. That works out to around $15-16 million a year. The last Astros player to make anywhere remotely close to that amount was Carlos Lee, who was paid $19 million in 2012. Is a rebuilding club like Houston ready to make that sort of financial commitment again and could they even afford it with CSN Houston not generating any revenue?
At this point, a couple of things need to go right. Rakuten has to post Tanaka (which is no guarantee at this point) and Houston has to be aggressive enough to be the top bidder amongst a throng of other interest teams. But there’s one other issue we haven’t looked at yet and that’s whether Masahiro Tanaka even wants to play for the Houston Astros. A few things we know:
1) Houston has lost 100+ games each of the past few seasons and isn’t predicted to be a .500 team for 2014.
2) Houston isn’t a well-known destination for international free agents. The first (and last) Japanese player to play for the Astros was Kazuo Matsui from 2008 to 2010 and that was an absolute disaster of a contract for both the player and team.
3) Houston does not have any other Japanese players on the team nor does Houston have a large Japanese population the way other large American markets (e.g. L.A., San Francisco, and New York) do.
The point of this exercise is to show that, while in theory, signing Tanaka would be possible, the Astros have a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to do so. (And that’s even assuming that Rakuten posts Tanaka in the first place.) Eventually, I do think Houston will be at a place to where they can draw top international talent. A dedication to winning and an increasing payroll will help to prove that. But right now I wouldn’t hold my breath that this will be that year that happens. Masahiro Tanaka will be playing somewhere in 2014, but it’s unlikely to be for the Houston Astros.