The Chicago Cubs don’t even have a box outside of which to operate.

According to a report out of Korea, the Chicago Cubs are set to sign right-handed reliever Chang-Yong Lim to a deal. The Korean 36-year-old has been pitching in Korea and Japan since he broke into professional baseball, and is a hard-throwing* side-armer. At the peak of his game, he was one of the most dominant relievers in Japan – indeed, the report notes that he was the 6th best paid player in Japan last year.

The report does not indicate what the terms of the deal are expected to be, but it is likely a minimal investment by the Cubs because …

… Lim had his second Tommy John surgery in July. For that reason, it isn’t particularly conceivable that he’ll be able to pitch until the second half of the season at the earliest. He could be getting a minor league deal (with a major league split – i.e., he gets paid a rate better than the major league minimum if and when he actually pitches in the bigs), perhaps with a club option for 2014 if he shows he’s healthy.

So, odds are this is a roster-neutral, cost-neutral, pure upside signing. If it plays out that way, cool. The Cubs have obviously been doing some serious scouting in Japan, and like the idea of importing some relievers (having already signed Kyuji Fujikawa). If there’s no risk here, why not take a crack on Lim? The Cubs shouldn’t limit their reclamation projects to Stateside pitchers only.

UPDATE: John over at Cubs Den found a different report, which, if my Google Translate is working properly, suggests that Lim’s agreement will indeed be a split major league/minor league deal. It looks like the Tigers, Orioles, Red Sox, and Rangers were also interest in Lim, who isn’t expected to be fully ready to go until 2014 (again, I think I’m reading it that way).

*UPDATE 2 (8:14pm CT): NPB Tracker has his average fastball velocity sliding from the mid-90s in his younger days to just under 90mph this past season. The elbow issues could have something to do with that, but so could his age.

UPDATE 3 (8:30pm CT): I should add that, assuming this is a one-year with option, or a two-year deal, it is probably going to have some scary number attached to it – in the multi-millions. But, if it’s a split contract, you’ll have to keep in mind before you freak: a split deal is essentially a minor league contract. It only costs the major league portion if the guy actually makes it to the bigs. So, while he might get a nice salary on the major league portion of his deal, there’s no risk to the Cubs if he can’t actually contribute.

UPDATE 4 (8:41pm CT): Right on cue, I found a report purporting to be an interview with Lim at the airport as he departed Korea, apparently to come sign his contract with the Cubs. The report (I can’t totally vouch for it, as my knowledge of Korean media is limited) says it’s a two-year, $5 million deal – but it’s a split deal, meaning it’s a minor league contract, and he only gets into the real money when he makes the big league roster. So, as I said: no real risk to the Cubs, but obviously they must believe there’s a fair chance he’ll make it back from this second surgery and be a contributor if his big league salary is going to be non-negligible. Some bits from that report:

Lim said he has been rehabbing his elbow for the past month in South Korea since his release from the Swallows. Lim is expected to remain out of action until July next year.

“The Cubs expect to see me back on the field in 2014, rather than next year,” Lim said. “Once the deal is signed, I will move to Arizona, where the Cubs operate a rehab center. My goal is to continue to rehab and get back on the mound by mid to late season next year.” …

Park Yoo-hyun, Lim’s agent, said the Cubs have been the most “active” suitor of Lim since September and the team laid out detailed plans to help Lim’s rehab. He also said other teams had offered more money than the Cubs, but the Chicago team said it would put a Korean interpreter and Lim’s personal trainer on the payroll.

UPDATE 5 (9:14pm CT): Obviously this all looks legit, and I wouldn’t go quite this far into the updates if I thought this was a straight-up hoax. But it’s worth throwing up the tiny cautionary roadblock: there is absolutely nothing about this Stateside. I have no reason to doubt the Korean reports, but I also have no personal knowledge that tells me that they’re spot on. We’ll get more clarity soon, but this is obviously not a signed contract yet.

(h/t to our own BN’er Korean Goat, who was relaying reports on this earlier today.)

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