While much of the St. Louis Cardinals' focus this offseason has been on domestic free agents, the team has been increasing their focus in Asia. Last year, they made an unsuccessful bid in the posting process for infielder Jung Ho Kang, who ultimately signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. This offseason, the team made a bid for first baseman Byung Ho Park, who has since signed with the Minnesota Twins. While the Cardinals have not won when it comes to posting players, they are apparently close to signing Korean free agent relief pitcher Seung Hwan Oh.
The possibility of a deal was first reported by Daniel Kim, a writer covering MLB and KBO (Korean Baseball Organization).
Cant confirm yet, but all signs point to St. Louis for Oh Seung Hwan. #Cardinals did show serious interest from the get go. #MLB— Daniel Kim 대니얼 김 (@DanielKimW) January 10, 2016
A short time later, he followed up with this:
Report- Oh Seung Hwan will go thru medicals tomorrow. If all goes well, he will become a new member of #STLCardinals. #MLB— Daniel Kim 대니얼 김 (@DanielKimW) January 10, 2016
Seung Hwan Oh, nicknamed "Final Boss", is 33 years old and not subject to the same posting rules as Jung Ho Kang and Byung Ho Park due to his extensive experience in Korea and Japan. Oh pitched nine years in the KBO for Samsung where he was the team's closer, amassing 277 saves, striking out 11 batters per nine innings against 2.1 walks per nine, while posting an ERA below two in seven of his nine seasons.
Oh then moved on to the Japanese professional league, where he has been the past two seasons. Pitching for Hanshin the last two seasons, Oh served as the team's closer, striking out 145 batters and walking just 29 in 136 innings. His numbers were better in 2014 than in 2015, as last year his ERA was 2.73 with 66 strikeouts and 16 walks in 69.1 innings pitched.
I reached out to Daniel Kim (you can follow him on twitter @danielkimw) to get a little bit more information the potential Cardinals reliever, and he was kind of to give me a bit more information. Any deal could get held up by the what the Cardinals see in Oh's physical, but according to Kim, he does not have a big injury history, writing, "Oh did have TJ more than 10 years ago, but he has been pretty healthy since."
As for a scouting report, Kim echoed other reports on the mid-90s fastball, but added a little bit of perspective on the pitch:
We, Koreans, like to say he's got [a] heavy FB. Not tall, but very thick frame with strong legs. He really gets thru the ball and thats how he get extra life in his FB.
His other nickname, "Stone Buddha" is apparently well-deserved:
He's got poker face on the mound. Will not show much emotion good or bad.
As far as his role goes:
I expect him to be a middle reliever at the MLB level.
Sometimes, you think you are at the final boss, and then there is yet another final boss awaiting you. Rosenthal will still be closer next season, but Oh adds some insurance if Walden does not come back strong, and provides a righty arm to potentially complement lefty Kevin Siegrist.
Kim also posted the following the video from 2014 on his twitter feed (151 km/hr is right around 94 miles per hour, and 140 km/hr for the slider is close to 87 mph):
Oh has been implicated on a gambling charge in Korea, however, this is not as serious as a headline might lead you to believe.
@dgoold @KyleWo @theonly1Avenger he did not bet on baseball. Went to Casinos overseas. Gambling in foreign nation is illegal in Korea.— Daniel Kim 대니얼 김 (@DanielKimW) January 10, 2016
The prosecutors in the case have asked that Oh pay what amounts to a roughly $6,000 fine for gambling in a casino outside of Korea. The KBO have also announced a suspension of 72 games should he attempt to return to the KBO, where he has not pitched since the 2013 season.
We do not yet know how much money the potential contract with the Cardinals would amount to, but he is coming off a two-year, $8.3 million dollar deal in Japan. The Cardinals already agreed to bring back Jonathan Broxton on a two-year $7.5 million deal, and the bullpen likely would have been solid with Rosenthal and Siegrist at the back end, but both players have pitched in a lot of games over the past few years. Signing Oh could provide the Cardinals with something close to an impact reliever without the high cost. Oh looks to be a solid reinforcement and depth as the Cardinals head into the 2016 season.