There is a fairly robust group of interesting free agents/postings coming from Japan this year, and obviously we focus most of our attention on center fielder Shogo Akiyama.
But the Cubs have needs that go beyond the whole center field/leadoff/contact stuff, and if they’re going to address the rotation and the bullpen in meaningful ways despite a tight budget (we’ll see just how tight), they will of course be leaving no stone unturned. Especially if it’s a pitcher they’ve scouted before …
Thus, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were going to get involved in new player posting, this time coming out of South Korea’s top professional league, the KBO. The lefty pitcher, Kwang-Hyun Kim, has said for a bit that he wanted to be posted, and now it appears that his team will oblige.
SK Wyverns will post pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun. https://t.co/tDkXek5iJr
— Dan Kurtz (@MyKBO) November 22, 2019
Pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun to become 1st KBO player to go through new posting system https://t.co/7Dt7y32fJU
— Yonhap News Agency (@YonhapNews) November 22, 2019
Kim, 31, previously was posted back in 2014, but was not able to come to a deal with the Padres. He subsequently had Tommy John surgery, and then came back as one of the clear best pitchers in the league. For that reason, teams have been watching him closely for a while in anticipation that he might come over to MLB.
That includes the Cubs:
Kim's fastball sits in low-90's but can reach mid-90's when needed. His slider has a sharp break and is a sure ML pitch. He's become a better pitcher in recent years utilizing more of his secondary pitches (curveball and forkball) and showing better control (1.81 BB/9 IP this yr)
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) August 14, 2019
In 2019, his full year back from Tommy John, Kim posted a 2.51 ERA over 190.1 innings, allowing 1.8 walks per 9 and striking out 8.5 per 9.
There’s never a perfect way to evaluate how the transition from a foreign league to MLB is going to go, and that’s especially true coming from KBO where the talent level is even wider than NPB, and where the ball/offensive environment has been actively tweaked several times the last half-decade. Scouts seem to believe Kim’s low-90s fastball and quality slider will play in the big leagues, though I don’t get the sense that folks expect him to be an ace, or even necessarily a lock to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
But if you at least want to get a sense for how the last really successful KBO transition pitcher was doing when he left Korea, Hyun-Jin Ryu posted a 2.66 ERA over 182.2 innings, allowing 2.3 walks per 9 and striking out 10.5 per 9. The league was much less offense friendly at that time, for what it’s worth, with a league-wide ERA of 3.82 (versus 4.16 in 2019). Of course, Ryu was also six years younger then than Kim is now.
None of this is at all to suggest that Kim will come over and have the success that Ryu has had with the Dodgers (also, hey, he’s a free agent right now, too!), but instead is only to point out that Kim is coming off a season that was probably pretty close in effectiveness to the one Ryu had before he departed the KBO.
As for the posting, it’s basically the same as the new NPB system, with Kim able to negotiate with all 30 teams on a deal (like a free agent), and then his team will get a payment equal to a percentage of the deal he ultimately signs (20% if the deal is $25 million or less, and a slightly smaller percentage as the price of the deal goes up), if all parties are agreeable.
The Cubs scouted Kim before, they have a need in the rotation and in the bullpen, and now Kim is available. Worth keeping an eye on him in a very crowded starting pitching market.