MLB teams looking for pitching this offseason (i.e., all of them) will soon have another option. The SK Wyverns of the Korea Baseball Organization announced Friday they will post ace left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim this offseason, according to the Yonhap News Agency. The formal posting process is expected to take place in the coming days.
"It's been a lifelong dream of mine to pitch on a major league mound," Kim said in a statement.
Kim, 31, broke into KBO as an 18-year-old in 2007 and he has been among the league's best starters throughout his career. He missed the entire 2017 season with Tommy John surgery and he has not missed a beat since returning. Here are his last two years:
The KBO averages in 2019 were a 4.16 ERA with 17.3 percent strikeouts and 8.6 percent walks. Kim was much better across the board. Tommy John surgery is known to inhibit a pitcher's control after he returns to the mound, but, in Kim's case, he's posted the best walk rates of his career the last two years. That makes me wonder how long his elbow bothered him before surgery.
Kim is one of five Asian players looking to join MLB this offseason, joining , , , and . Akiyama, Kikuchi, Tsutsugo, and Yamaguchi are all from Japan. Kim is the only Korean player to be posted this winter.
Here is what you need to know about Kim as he prepares to look for a major league team.
How good is he?
The numbers are excellent, and Kim's success is built on his wipeout, major league caliber slider. Sung Min Kim, a front office staffer with KBO's Lotte Giants, gave the following scouting report back in August:
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)
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs says Kim has a "nasty, tilt-a-whirl slider," but says the total package has a "fifth starter/swingman look" in the big leagues. The possible MLB comp here is Tigers southpaw Matthew Boyd, another lefty with a wipeout breaking ball but only average velocity and offspeed pitches. Here's video of Kim in action:
Among Korean-born pitchers, Chan Ho Park and Hyun-Jin Ryu have had by far the most MLB success as starting pitchers. Others have carved out successful big leagues careers in the bullpen, including Byung-Hyun Kim and Seung-Hwan Oh.
How does the posting process work?
Although he has enough service time to qualify for international free agency, Kim has to be posted this offseason because he is still under contract with the SK Wyverns.
MLB's posting agreement with KBO mirrors their posting agreement with Japan's Nippon Pro Baseball. Once posted, the player has 30 days to negotiate a contract with MLB teams, or the player returns to his team in Korea if he's unable to agree to terms. The MLB team that signs him pays his former club a "release fee" that is based on a percentage of his total contract guarantee:
- Contract worth $25 million or less: 20 percent of total guarantee.
- Contract worth $25 million to $50 million: $5 million plus 17.5 percent of amount over $25 million.
- Contract worth $50 million or more: $9.375 million plus 15 percent of amount over $50 million.
The posting window opened Nov. 1 and will close Dec. 5. Players can be posted anytime between those dates with the full 30-day negotiating window to follow. The relatively early posting period ensures the process will not drag out into mid-to-late January (as with Masahiro Tanaka in 2014) and hold up the rest of free agency.
He has been posted before
This is the second time Kim will be posted for MLB teams. He was originally posted as a 25-year-old in 2014 and the Padres won his negotiating rights with a $2 million bid. The two sides were unable to agree to a contract, however, and Kim returned to Korea. San Diego did not have to pay the $2 million because they did not sign Kim.
MLB and KBO have since changed their posting agreement -- under the old agreement teams submitted a blind bid, with the high bidder winning the player's negotiating rights -- and the current agreement gives Kim much more freedom. In 2014, he was able to negotiate with the Padres and Padres alone. Now he can negotiate with any team.
Which teams could be interested?
There is already interest in Kim even though he has not yet been posted. The Cubs, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Mets, and Royals are showing early interest in Kim, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. I suspect all 30 teams will check in at some point given the general need for pitching around the league. Lefties with swing-and-miss sliders are always in demand.
Hisashi Iwakuma could provide a possible contract framework. The Mariners signed Iwakuma to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million guaranteed with another $3.4 million in incentives tied to starts and innings in January 2012. Iwakuma signed that contract at age 31, the same age Kim is now, and he opened 2012 in the bullpen before transitioning into the rotation at midseason.
I know $1.5 million doesn't sound like much, but Kim made $1.4 million this past season and was one of the highest paid players in KBO. What qualifies as a pittance in MLB is a fortune in KBO. With his 32nd birthday coming in July, this might be Kim's last chance to jump to MLB, and an incentive-laden one-year contract could be enough to get him to sign. I guess we'll see.
Kim will undoubtedly look to sign with a team that will guarantee him a rotation spot on Opening Day. If that doesn't happen, or the contract offers don't meet his demands, he could instead join as a team as a reliever and potentially work his way into the rotation a la Iwakuma with the Mariners.