Fringe players such as former Red Sox Matt Andriese look overseas
Former Boston Red Sox right-hander Matt Andriese has signed to play in 2022 with Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). This is merely a blip in the giant scheme of offseason maneuverings since Andriese’s 2021 season was not precisely a scintillating performance, but the signing goes deeper.
The current lockout hissy fit between baseball management and players has created a treasure trove of borderline talent to pursue options with Nippon Baseball and Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). The list grows substantially as players look to a guarantee rather than a minor league contract.
Both leagues have limitations on foreign players, so there is competition, and not every player gets a nod or even wishes to travel to Asia to play baseball. The cultural shift can be dramatic, which applies to Asian players coming to North America.
Since this is about the Red Sox, or at least in a circumvented way, one former Red Sox player has created an excellent career in Korea (no verbal pun intended). First-round draft pick (2008) Casey Kelly has again signed to pitch for the LG Twins of the KBO.
Kelly’s professional career in North America was checkered. After being a significant piece of the Adrian Gonzalez trade, Kelly had Tommy John Surgery and followed that with performance issues. Kelly’s MLB record was just 2-11 and a 5.46 ERA. If he remained stateside, latching on to a minor league deal would become a yearly event. Kelly – like many similar players – went overseas.
KBO offers a lighter schedule, less travel, and a base salary of $1.2 MM for Kelly. Now a four-year veteran of the KBO and one of the best pitchers in a league dominated by offense. Conversely, the KBO and NPB can provide a restart for a career.
Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier’s career was dead until he went to Japan. The impression was enough to convince Brasier and, in this instance, the Red Sox that risk was worth taking. Brasier has established himself as part of the Red Sox bullpen.
Horace Greeley stated, “Go West, young man,” and with baseball players, that has been a career lifeline to stay in the game with earning potential far more significant than languishing in the minors. Now the market is at a premium.
The realization for borderline MLB players is that the lockout and potential strike will be extensive. Half a loaf is better than none applies. For the traveling player, it is a win-win situation. You are employed, playing the game you love, experiencing an adventure, and possibly impressing enough to slide back to Noth America if an opportunity arises.
The Red Sox and other MLB teams will not lose players of significance since the deals are generally directed at fringe players with no or limited contractual options. What I have noticed is the surge in players with early signings. MLBTR has an almost daily posting of a player who has signed with the KBO or NPB.
With the possibility of labor strife ultimately intensifying, the overseas option may provide a baseball fix for the players and the fans. Again there could be a nice boost for minor league baseball.