To build upon a storybook career that spanned across eleven years in the Korean Baseball Organization and Japanese Leagues, Cardinals relief pitcher Seung Hwan Oh — after just a single season — is already considered one of the best in Major League Baseball at his craft, ranking as the seventh-best reliever in the game by MLB Network’s ‘Top 10 Right Now’ series.
Oh, who will turn 35 this July, dominated the KBO and Japan’s Central League, maintaining a 1.81 ERA and a 10.7 K/9 across 646 1⁄3 innings in his professional career that commenced back in 2005. To add to his resume, the right-handed Oh eclipsed the 100-save plateau in fewer games than anyone before him in Korean baseball history had, in addition to being named the Rookie of the Year in 2005 and the Most Valuable Player of the 2005 and 2011 Korean Series.
So the Cardinals decided in January of 2016 to roll the dice and sign Oh to a one-year deal with a club-option for a second year, and with a performance in 2016 that was an indispensable piece in the Cardinals’ success, it would have been irrefutable for the Cardinals to not pick up the option.
In 76 games, Oh dazzled with a .188 BAA and 2.13 FIP in 79 2⁄3 frames, the fifth-highest total of innings among National League relievers. Oh’s 103 punchouts ranked him sixth in the Majors, only trailing the likes of Dellin Betances (NYY), Andrew Miller (NYY & CLE), Kyle Barraclough (MIA; Yes, the one the Cardinals traded to the Marlins for Steve Cishek back in 2015), Brad Hand (SD), and Kenley Jansen (LAD).
When Trevor Rosenthal lost his job as the team’s closer in late June due to arm injuries, Oh, Kevin Siegrist, and Jonathan Broxton filled in for the ailing reliever until Oh emerged as the most seasoned for the role and grasped the opportunity by the horns, saving nineteen games for St. Louis in the second half of the season.
With his stellar 2016 campaign as the only reason needed, Oh is in line to begin the 2017 season as the Cardinals’ closer and will be captaining a stock of relievers that is donning a different appearance than it did at this point last year.
Earlier this offseason, the Cardinals added left-handed reliever and former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brett Cecil to their bullpen on a four-year, $30.5 million deal to solidify the already fairly-solid group of hurlers they ended the season with. The team’s relief core — particularly from the left side — took some hits after the season ended, as Tyler Lyons required a knee operation, and Zach Duke underwent Tommy John surgery.
Cecil joins Siegrist as the club’s two southpaws, and the pair will be complemented by Rosenthal, who figures to land a set-up role, Broxton, Matt Bowman, and possibly Luke Weaver, Michael Weaver, Marco Gonzalez, or Sam Tuivailala. Depending on who the Cardinals decide to carry on their bench, they may be able to carry an additional reliever, making it more likely that more than one of the recently-mentioned four each land a roster spot out of Spring Training.