Status of KBO and NPB International Signings

It was a big week for major league baseball as well as baseball in Japan and Korea. The Rays signed Yoshitomo Tsutsugo from Japan while the Cardinals inked lefthanded Korean pitcher Kwang-Hyun Kim. Both should make an impact for their teams.

Myworld has always liked Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. His defense is not that strong so it is unclear where he will play for Tampa Bay. Depth wise the Rays have better defensive outfielders in Hunter Renfroe, Austin Meadows and Kevin Kiermaier. The Rays also have a crowded first base field with Ji-Man Choi and Nate Lowe. That leaves the DH position as his most viable spot, with occasional starts in the outfield.

The bat is what attracts the Rays to Yoshitomo. In 2016 he had his best year for the Yokohama Bay Stars hitting 44 homeruns with a .322 average and 110 RBIs. His 2019 season was a disappointment with 141 whiffs, his only season in which he struck out more times than games played. He also drove in just 79 runs. Yokohama is a hitter’s park so the dimensions are small and homeruns are prevalent. Teammates Neftali Soto, who could not get major league playing time, slugged 43 homeruns and Jose Lopez hit 31.

The 28 year old only signed for two years and $12 million. Another $2.4 million will be paid to the Bay Stars as compensation for his posting. After the two years he could become another free agent at 30 years of age making him eligible for another rich contract if he shows success. He just needs to reduce those strikeouts that were so prevalent last year.

From another country Korean Kwang-Hyun Kim signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in his second posting opportunity. He was posted back in 2014 when the Padres won a bidding process for him. Kim seemed to be on the down side of his career at that point, suffering from injuries that saw his ERA climb by two runs the last two years. He and the Padres could not agree on a contract and he returned to Korea. He eventually had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and this seemed to be the answer to all his ailments. The last two years he has been the ace of the SK Wyverns pitching staff with ERAs under 3 the last two seasons. Last year the offense in Korea was down so the 2.51 ERA is not as impressive. He did go 17-6 in 30 starts.

Kim throws a fastball in the low 90s but it can hit the mid-90s. He also has an above average slider. The contract is for two years at $8 million. There are also incentives that can add an additional $1.5 million to the contract. How much the Cardinals will owe the SK Wyverns in the posting fee will depend on whether he meets any of those incentives.

There are three more professional international players out there looking for a contract after having been posted or as a free agent. Myworld thinks the Rays and Cardinals have signed the two top players.

Japanese pitcher Shun Yamaguchi had a good year for the Yomiuri Giants. He was 15-4 with a 2.91 ERA. There are reports that the Blue Jays have signed him to a contract. He will probably fit in the back end of the rotation, though in his early years he was the closer for the Yokohama Bay Stars. Last year was his career year so the Blue Jays may be signing buying him when his stock is at its peak, or perhaps he figured things out.

Shogo Akiyama was the free agent outfielder that may be the fourth outfielder type. He can play centerfield but there may be a question with his bat. Last year he hit .303 with 20 homeruns for the Seibu Lions. His last three years he has hit over 20 homeruns with a batting average over .300. Myworld would be surprised if his bat translates to the major leagues. He could be a solid player for a second division team, but a fourth outfielder for a playoff team. He is a free agent so there is no posting fee required to sign him.

The same can be said for Hiroshima Carp second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi, though his defense is supposedly at the gold glove level. The problem for Kikuchi is his weak bat, where his average will sit around .250 and his OBA may fall below .300. He has hit double digits in homeruns the last four years but myworld would be surprised if he can reach those levels in the major leagues.

The Doosan Bears outfielder Jae-Hwan Kim has been posted but there has not been a lot of news on him. After hitting 35 or more homeruns between 2016-2018 and winning the MVP award in 2018, he had a down year last year. Offensive numbers were down in the KBO but Kim’s numbers were really down, at 15 homeruns and a .283 average. At 31 years of age it will be interesting to see if he gets any major league teams interested in him.

Not Korean, but playing in the KBO, Josh Lindblom signed a big contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was the teammate of Kim and may put in a good word for him, though the Brewers are a little stacked in the outfield. Lindblom won the KBO MVP award last year with his 20-3, 2.50 ERA. This is his third attempt at making a major league team. After having some success in the KBO in 2015-2016 he tried to return to the major leagues. He found himself back in the KBO late in 2017 after failing to stick on a major league roster. He signed a three year contract for a little over $9 million.

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