The same legal issue that (in a way) played a role in helping the Cardinals land him a year ago initially served as a roadblock between Seung Hwan Oh and Korea’s World Baseball Classic roster. Nevertheless, that barricade has been overlooked, and the Cardinals’ closer will represent his native country in the upcoming international tournament.
Oh was involved in a gambling incident that occurred prior to becoming a free agent in the Korean Baseball Organization and faced a hefty penalty -- a 72-game suspension -- if he returned to hurl in the KBO. Instead, the 5’10”, 210-pound right-hander opted to play Major League Baseball and sign with the Cardinals on a one-year, $5 million deal that also included an option for a second year. And halfway through the contact, it’s safe to assume St. Louis is getting their money’s worth out of the agreement.
Oh appeared in 76 games with the Cardinals in 2016, leading the ‘pen with 58 clean outings, and successfully converted nineteen saves in 23 opportunities, a success rate of 84 percent. Across his 79 2/3 frames, Oh dazzled with an eyepopping 11.64 K/9 and 2.88 xFIP, two statistics that ranked him toward the top of league leaderboards, and his 2.6 WAR charted as the third highest among pitchers on the team, trailing starters Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright.
St. Louis used Oh almost extensively as an eighth-inning man for the front half of the summer -- he didn’t log consecutive save opportunities until early July -- and it took Trevor Rosenthal’s removal from the role at the tail end of June for such to occur. Rosenthal would ultimately land on the disabled list about three weeks later with shoulder inflammation, freeing essentially the only possible obstruction between Oh truly living up to his nickname, the Final Boss.
Oh will commence the 2017 campaign as the team’s closer and will be supported by a solid cast of other relievers, including Rosenthal, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Bowman, and lefties Kevin Siegrist and Brett Cecil. Tyler Lyons, Michael Wacha, and Luke Weaver remain plausible options for the remaining bullpen role, as do Miguel Socolovich and Sam Tuivailala.
By joining Team Korea, Oh becomes the fifth Cardinals player to enlist in the World Baseball Classic and the first on Korea. Other Cardinals slated to appear in the tournament include Yadier Molina (Team Puerto Rico), Martinez and Alex Reyes (Team Dominican Republic), and Matt Carpenter (Team United States).
The tournament will begin on March 6 in Seoul before transitioning to Jalisco, Tokyo, Miami, San Diego, and Los Angeles. For a full schedule and other info, visit worldbaseballclassic.com.