Cardinals Sign Korean Lefty Kwang-Hyun Kim

photo: Kwang-Hyun Kim (Hanstar.net)

The St. Louis Cardinals have added a 31-year old 12-year veteran left-handed pitcher from Korea, Kwang-Hyun Kim.


St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St.  Louis Cardinals announced today (Tuesday, December 17) that they have signed left-handed pitcher Kwang Hyun Kim (pronounced kwong yunn kim) to a two-year contract for the upcoming 2020-21 seasons. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Kim, 31, is coming off a stellar season in the Korean Baseball Organization, posting marks of 17-6 with a 2.51 ERA (190.1 IP) over 31 appearances (30 starts) with 180 strikeouts. He was voted as the 2019 Best Pitcher after leading the KBO in quality starts (24) while ranking second in wins and strikeouts; and third in ERA and innings pitched.

Expected to compete for a position in the Cardinals starting rotation in 2020, Kim is aiming to become the 15th South Korean-born pitcher to appear in the Major Leagues and the second for St. Louis, following right-hander Seung-hwan Oh (2016-17).

Kim’s Best Pitcher award compliments his 2008 KBO Most Valuable Player award during his 19 year-old season, when the left-hander was 16-4 with a 2.39 ERA (162.0 IP) and 150 strikeouts during his second-year as a professional.

Winner of the 2008 Golden Glove award, Kim is also a former KBO league-leader in wins (2008, 2010), strikeouts (2008), win percentage (2008), ERA (2009), and innings pitched (2010).

The four-time KBO Champion with the SK Wyverns (2007, 2008, 2010, 2018) was also a member of the South Korean team that won the Gold Medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Kim helped South Korea qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and earned a Gold Medal for South Korea in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. As a youth, Kim was a member of the South Korea U-18 World Cup Champions during his 16-year old season in 2006, while earning the World Cup MVP honors.

Kim, and his wife, Sang Hee, have a daughter, Minjoo, and a son, Minjae.

Nicknamed “KK”, Kim will wear uniform no. 33 for the Cardinals.


Brian Walton’s take

The fact that the two sides were interested in one another and that Kim had traveled to St. Louis to finalize the deal was first reported by Yonhap News of Korea on Monday. The two-year contract, agreed to over the weekend and announced on Tuesday, is worth $8 million, per the Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold. National reporter Jon Heyman added that the terms include annual incentives of $1.5 million, as well.

Kim, 31, had been posted by his Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) club SK Wyverns and had until January 5 to strike a deal with an MLB club. Assuming the contract value is under $25 million, which is almost certain, the Cardinals will have to pay an additional 20 percent of the contract value to SK Wyverns as a posting fee. That is intended to compensate them for the loss of Kim, who had one year remaining on his KBO contract. (Update: Based on the $8 MM contract, the posting fee would be an additional $1.6 million.)

Kwang-Hyun Kim

This is Kim’s second career posting, albeit under different rules. Back in 2014, when Kim was 25 years old, San Diego won a window of exclusive negotiating rights but were unable to come to terms with him. An interesting tidbit I noticed in articles from that time is that Kim’s agent was Melvin Roman. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Roman is not only Yadier Molina’s long-time representative, but he also added Marcell Ozuna as a client after the now-free agent outfielder dumped Scott Boras.

(Update: Kim’s current agent is John Boggs, who was present but not at the head table for Kim’s introductory press conference in St. Louis on Tuesday. Translating was his Korean-based agent, Jerry Kim.)

Like everyone reading this, I have never seen Kim pitch in person and have watched the same videos as you. He has been a top starter in Korea for more than a decade and is said to rely on his low-90s fastball and his out pitch, a swing-and-miss slider, which he says he can throw at two different speeds. He also has a curve and change-up in his arsenal.

(Refer to the lower video clip below.)

Depending on who you ask, Kim can be anywhere from a middle of the rotation starter to a swingman in the majors. This story from Yonhap News offers a comprehensive view of what others see in Kim. I encourage you to read it to get direct feedback from some who know his work well, rather than from rehashed information.

It is fair to note that Kim has a lot of mileage on his arm, 1,673 2/3 innings, all logged in the KBO. So after the first question of how his career 3.27 ERA might translate to MLB, his durability comes up next. He has already been through Tommy John surgery, in 2017, and came back stronger afterward. Kim threw 190 1/3 innings in 2019 with a 2.51 ERA after posting a 2.98 mark in 2018.

You can view Kim’s 12-year career stats here. (Note that some media sources list his name as Gwang-Hyun Kim instead.) He has also pitched for Korea in various international competitions, as noted in the press release above.

Some fans will be disappointed that the Cardinals did not instead go after higher-profile free agent left-handers Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the latter a year older than his countryman Kim, and both Boras clients.

Instead, it appears that the Cardinals are going for an outside-the-box solution that offers more uncertainty perhaps, but at a lower cost.

Special Assistant to the General Manager, Player Procurement Matt Slater has been in charge of Cardinals scouting in the East for years and has a good record unearthing pitching talent. Recent examples include Seung-Hwan Oh and Miles Mikolas. So that may offer encouragement to some.

In terms of role, Kim gives the Cardinals an experienced left-handed starting option to help cover for the loss of Michael Wacha via free agency. Kim could become the first left-handed pitcher among St. Louis’ regular starting five since Jaime Garcia in 2016.

However, Kim’s opportunity in the rotation may depend most on Carlos Martinez’ readiness to start. With the Cardinals having no clear closer for at least the first half of 2020, Martinez could be returned to the ninth-inning role, instead.

With a full 40-man roster, the Cardinals will have to make a corresponding transaction to clear space for Kim. My understanding is this must occur when team files his contract with the Commissioner’s Office, within a 20-day window.


Update Wednesday, 12/18


Update Tuesday evening, 12/17

This was unlikely to happen anyway…


For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.


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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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