All things considered, this has been a quiet offseason for the reigning NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals. They re-signed Adam Wainwright to a one-year contract and ... that's it? That's it aside from some very minor 40-man roster cleanup.
On Tuesday, the Cardinals made their first notable offseason addition. St. Louis has signed Korean lefty Kwang-Hyun Kim to a two-year contract, the team announced. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports the deal is worth $8 million. The Cardinals also owe Kim's former team in Korea, the SK Wyverns, a $1.6 million posting fee (20 percent of $8 million).
Kim, 31, was posted for MLB teams for the second time this offseason -- the Padres won his negotiating rights back in 2014, but the two sides could not agree to a contract. The SK Wyverns posted Kim on Dec. 5 and he had 30 days to negotiate a contract with interested teams. Had he not agreed to a deal, he would've returned to Korea.
This past season Kim threw 190 1/3 innings with 180 strikeouts and a 2.51 ERA in 2019. It was his first full season back from Tommy John surgery., a front office staffer with the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization:
Kim's fastball sits in low-90s but can reach mid-90s 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)
At Tuesday's press conference Cardinals indicated Kim will be used as a starting pitcher, at least initially. There had been some thought he could come over as a reliever -- lefties with wipeout sliders are always nice to have in the late innings -- but, instead, the Cardinals will give him a chance to start. Kim surely sought that opportunity.
Here is St. Louis' rotation depth chart with Kim signed:
- RHP Jack Flaherty
- RHP Miles Mikolas
- RHP Adam Wainwright
- RHP Dakota Hudson
- LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim
- RHP Carlos Martinez
- RHP Daniel Ponce de Leon
- LHP Austin Gomber
- RHP Alex Reyes
The Cardinals have enviable rotation depth -- I didn't even list lefty Genesis Cabrera on the depth chart -- and Kim's signing could push Martinez into the bullpen full-time. He's battled shoulder trouble the last few years and the Cardinals opted to keep him in short relief this year rather than stretch him out to start.
Martinez saved 24 games with a 3.17 ERA this past season and, assuming he remains in that role, he'd be part of a formidable end-game trio with lefty Andrew Miller and righty Giovanny Gallegos. In a roundabout way, signing Kim could help keep Martinez healthy and thus improve the bullpen. There's little reason to put Martinez and his shoulder at risk by trying him as a starter now.
Cabrera, Gomber, Ponce de Leon, and Reyes all have minor league options remaining, meaning the Cardinals can send them to Triple-A next season without exposing them to waivers. St. Louis could also trade from that rotation depth to address other weaknesses on the roster, possibly in the outfield. That said, keeping pitching depth is never a bad idea.
According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Cardinals had roughly $161 million on the books for 2020 before signing Kim. They opened 2019 with a $162 million payroll, which would seem to indicate the club doesn't have much financial wiggle room remaining this winter. Kim could be their only notable addition this offseason, not just their first.