The Cardinals officially announced the following roster moves today:
Signed LHP Kwang-hyun Kim as a free agent to a 2-year, $8 million deal
Designated OF Adolis Garcia for assignment
Since the signing of Kim was announced but before it was formalized, my colleagues here at VEB have done an excellent job of previewing the acquisition. John LaRue gave an outstanding treatment of what type of pitcher Kim is and how the Cards might use him here. Ben Godar added some additional juicy tidbits here. A.E. Schaefer further supplemented this superb coverage with a great scouting report here. I couldn’t attempt to offer anything to add to the discussion of these issues. In this transaction piece, therefore, I thought it would be helpful to explain a bit about the posting process, since Kim is coming from the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), which is the South Korean “major league.”
Kim was under control of a KBO team, namely the SK Wyverns. The Wyverns had the opportunity to “post” Kim, that is, make him available to a major league club, during the period from November 1st through December 5th. Once a KBO club decides to post a player within this window, the KBO club notifies the MLB Commissioner, and the Commissioner notifies all MLB clubs. There used to be a complicated bidding process with secret bids submitted to the Commissioner’s Office, with teams winning the bid process getting exclusive negotiating rights.
Beginning with the 2018 offseason, however, the process was changed. A fixed release fee is now required to be paid to the KBO club posting the player. In Kim’s case, because the value of the contract is $25 million or less, the Wyverns are entitled to 20% of the guaranteed value of the deal. Any MLB club willing to pay the release fee is allowed to negotiate with the player during a 30-day window that begins when the player is posted. If the player doesn’t sign with an MLB club within 30 days of being posted, the KBO club does not get the release fee, and the player can’t be posted again until the next November 1st.
Since the Cardinals signed Kim, they will be required to pay a $1.6 million release fee to the SK Wyverns. This does not count against the team’s payroll for any purpose, and can be paid in installments. Half is due in 14 days, another 17% within 6 months, a further 17% within a year, and the remaining 16% within 18 months.
According to various accounts, Kim is also able to earn up to $1.5 million in incentives in each year of the deal, but as far as I can tell at this time, the exact details have not been released. It has also been reported that Kim will have some clause in his contract that protects him against being sent to the minor leagues. We don’t know the exact details, but I can offer the most likely option.
Miles Mikolas, the last player the Cards signed from a foreign professional league, was no longer under contract to his Japanese club when he signed with the Cardinals. Thus, the Cardinals did not have to pay a release fee. In addition, Mikolas had played in the major leagues before and was already out of minor league options. Japanese player So Taguchi, however, had never played in major league organized baseball before signing with the Cardinals in 2002. He had a clause in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent rather than accept an assignment to the minor leagues (he ended up waiving the provision and agreed to be optioned). My best guess at this stage is that is the type of clause you will see once the details of Kim’s contract are fully revealed.
In addition, another issue that has not been discussed with respect to Kim is MLB service time. Players from foreign leagues that are highly sought after often negotiate provisions in their MLB contracts that give them credit for their years played in the foreign league for purposes of eligibility for free agency. Mikolas is the most recent example of this. When the Cardinals signed him, he only had 1 year and 37 days worth of MLB service time. He had played for 3 years in Japan, and his first deal with the Cards was for 2 years. Thus, when that deal expired, Mikolas was contractually eligible for free agency, despite not having 6 real years of MLB service time. His Cardinal contract essentially gave him MLB service credit for the 3 years spent in Japan. With Kim being a 12-year veteran of the KBO, I would be shocked if a clause was not included in his contract that made him a MLB free agent when his deal with the Cardinals expires.
Because the Cards’ 40-man roster was full, the club had to make a corresponding roster move to make room for Kim, and decided to DFA Garcia, whose standing within the organization crumbled in about a year’s time. Initially signed out of Cuba for 2.5 million during spring training of 2017, he was initially assigned to AA Springfield as a 24-year old, and split the season between Springfield and AAA Memphis. Athletic and strong, Garcia’s problem was always that he didn’t have enough patience at the plate, and the problem got worse over time. He had a 7.6% walk rate in AA 2017, which is not awful, but that plummeted to 3.8% by the time the Cards purchased his contract from AAA Memphis and added him to the 40-man roster on August 6th of 2018.
Garcia was added at that time because Tommy Pham had been traded, Dexter Fowler was out for the year with a broken foot and Tyler O’Neill was on the shelf with a mysterious groin injury. Despite Garcia’s low walk rate, he was promoted largely on the strength of his being named the Cardinal Minor League Player of the Month for July of 2018, a month in which he hit 10 out of his total 22 home runs in 2018. Other than that hot streak, however, his offensive season had been poor, with an OBP under .300.
In 2019 Garcia did not see any action with the big club, instead continuing his hackstatic ways, and demonstrating in Memphis that he would rather take poison than to take a walk. He actually did increase his BB rate from 3.3% to 4.2%, but his K rate went up for the 3rd consecutive year, this time from 23.1% all the way to 30.1%. Even though he hit 32 HRs for Memphis in 2019, his overall slash line was .253/.301/.517, amounting to only an 89 wRC+, according to Fangraphs.
In one way the Cards’ decision to DFA Garcia is surprising, and in another it’s not. Because Garcia did not spend at least 20 days on option in 2018, he has only burned one minor league option. With 2 options remaining, one could argue that the Cards have time to give Garcia a chance to improve and show the upside the Cards believed in when they signed him to a large bonus. Whereas someone like Rangel Ravelo is out of options, and is a non-prospect who “is what he is” at this point. On the other hand, Garcia will turn 27 during spring training, has had 3 spins at AAA Memphis, and bats right-handed. Thus the Cards might have felt he was redundant given the presence of Tyler O’Neill, and were ready to cut bait on Garcia because they concluded that they had to trim an outfielder and he was unlikely to get better. They also seem determined to squeeze something out of Brett Cecil.
In any case, the Cards now have 7 days to determine what to do with Garcia. Most likely they will put him on outright assignment waivers and attempt to outright him to AAA Memphis. His having 2 minor league options remaining makes him more attractive for a waiver claim than a player who has to be added to the active roster.
The Cards’ 40-man roster is now full, and they will have to make further roster cuts if they make any more additions this off-season.