Korean relief ace Seung-Hwan Oh has told his agents to explore a new contract with a Major League Baseball club, according to a report from Kyung-Don Joo and Yeong-Seok Lee report of the Korea JoongAng Daily. Oh’s contract with NPB’s Hanshin Tigers is up, and thus he is a complete free agent who isn’t subject to the posting system.
“We first needed to talk with Hanshin, but our focus is on playing in the United States,” said Dong-Wook Kim, head of the Sports Intelligence agency that represents Oh. Some MLB teams have already been in contact about Oh’s services, though Kim said that “what’s important is whether the club can offer the environment where Oh can show his best ability.”
Oh, 33, has been one of the top closers in both the Korea Baseball Organization (nine seasons with Samsung Lions) and Nippon Professional Baseball (two seasons with Hanshin) during his 11-year career. He has posted a sparkling 1.81 ERA, 10.7 K/9 and 5.18 K/BB rate over 646 1/3 career innings. Oh has recorded 357 saves in his career, earning him the equally-awesome nicknames of “Stone Buddha” and “Final Boss.” Oh pitched for South Korea in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics, earning a bronze and silver medal, respectively.
According to a two-year-old profile on the Global Sporting Integration homepage, Oh’s top pitch is the “stone fastball,” a rising four-seamer that can go as high as 97mph but is usually in the 92-94mph range. Oh also possesses a slider (thrown anywhere between 80-89mph) and slow curveball (between 70-79mph). The 5’10”, 202-pounder will turn 34 years old in July.
This isn’t the first time Oh has been linked to MLB, as there were rumors about a possible move to North America in each of the last two offseasons, though he wasn’t posted. The Yankees, Pirates, Orioles and Mariners are among the teams known to have at least scouted Oh over the last two years. While it’s probably unrealistic that Oh would be immediately handed a ninth-inning job his unfamiliarity with MLB, teams with unsettled closer situations could certainly see him as a candidate to win the job in Spring Training or later during the 2016 season. Oh’s market will be helped by the lack of established closers available in free agency this winter.