For a team that
some most of us grow frustrated with for a lack of activity in the trade and free agency markets, the Cardinals definitely aren’t afraid to take chances when it comes to signing players from Asian baseball leagues.
Earlier this week, the Cardinals held a press conference at Busch Stadium to welcome left-handed pitcher Kwang-Hyun Kim to the club on a two-year, $8 million contract. The 31-year-old Kim — he goes by “KK” — was all smiles as he donned his new threads for the first time.
LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim is introduced LIVE from Busch Stadium! https://t.co/7YiHjDQUC6— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) December 17, 2019
Kim has been pitching in the KBO (Korean baseball) since his age-18 season, back in 2007. In 12 seasons, Kim was 136-77 in 298 games, with 276 (nearly 93 percent) as a starter. Over his last two seasons specifically, since being shelved all of 2017 for Tommy John surgery recovery, Kim posted a 2.70 ERA over 326 1⁄3 innings. In addition to a 310:68 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Kim maintained a 0.80 HR/9 rate.
Here’s how Viva El Birdos covered the Kim signing:
Kim is the third pitcher the Cardinals have signed out of Asia within the last four years. In December of 2017, the Cardinals took a chance and signed Miles Mikolas to a two-year deal worth $15.5 million. Mikolas had pitched in 37 MLB games since his debut in 2012 before being released by the Rangers in 2014. For the next three years after that, from 2015-to-2017, Mikolas pitched for the Yomiuri Giants of the NPB (Japanese baseball). In those three seasons, Mikolas posted a 2.18 ERA over 424 2⁄3 innings, serving as one of the top starters in the Central league. In each of his first two seasons with the Cardinals, Mikolas has been the dependable starter the team was looking for, with 32 starts apiece in 2018 and 2019. St. Louis inked Mikolas to an extension early in 2019 for four years worth $68 million. That contract will take effect in 2020, keeping Mikolas in St. Louis through 2023.
In January of 2016, St. Louis signed reliever Seung-Hwan Oh to a deal worth $11 million. In nine years in the KBO, Oh charted 277 saves, fittingly earning the nickname “Final Boss.” Oh then moved to the NPB, where he continued serving as a closer for two more years. In a combined 136 innings in 2014 and 2015, Oh dazzled with a 145:29 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Oh carried his dominance stateside, as he was one of the toughest relievers in the league in his debut season. Oh appeared in 76 games for the Cardinals in 2016 with a .190 opponents’ batting average and 103 punchouts in just shy of 80 innings. Oh went on to appear in 62 more games in 2017, saving a total of 47 games in his two seasons with the Cardinals before moving on from St. Louis. Oh eventually returned to the KBO in 2019 and is currently a member of the Samsung Lions.
Thinking back a ‘few’ years, back beyond the Kim, Mikolas, and Oh signings, the Cardinals found success in another player who found success in Asia. This player was one of the first to come from Japan and play in the Majors. Who could forget about one of the key contributors on the team that won the 2006 World Series, the club’s first title in two dozen years? I’m talking about number 99: So Taguchi!
Taguchi spent six seasons in St. Louis, debuting in 2002. In 578 games with the Cardinals through 2007, Taguchi slashed .283/.336/.391 with an 89 OPS+. Taguchi’s signature moment with the Cardinals came in Game 2 of the 2006 NLCS against the Mets. Taguchi, who had hit just two homers in the regular season, launched a go-ahead blast off Billy Wagner in the top of the ninth inning to secure a St. Louis win. St. Louis went on to win the pennant and defeat the Tigers in the World Series for their 10th title.
At this point, it’s hard to say for certain if Kim will take a job in the rotation or a role in the bullpen. The Cardinals have been linked to free agent Dallas Keuchel and David Price of the Red Sox, but we know the club isn’t going to shell out a ton of money or part with their prized farm pieces. Regardless of any additional moves the team may make to bolster their pitching staff, the Cardinals are hopeful that their latest, low-risk project from Asia can return a high reward in their quest to remain atop the ever-improving Central division.