The Rangers are nearing a deal with left-hander Hyeon-Jong Yang, according to multiple reports out of South Korea (hat tip: Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency, on Twitter). Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports that an announcement of a minor league agreement could come from the Rangers today. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Jeff Wilson tweets that the deal would contain an invite to Spring Training and pay Yang $1.3MM should he make the roster.
Yang, 32, has long had his sights set on eventually testing his abilities against Major League opponents. His original club, the Kia Tigers, posted him for MLB clubs seven years ago. However, the Tigers were unsatisfied with the top bid — a bid which came from the Rangers — and opted to instead hang onto him. The Tigers controlled Yang for multiple seasons beyond that point, and he opted to re-sign on a series of lucrative contracts that made him one of the KBO’s highest-paid players.
Now on the verge of his 33rd birthday and with ample career earnings in the KBO, however, Yang has appeared dead set on pursuing MLB opportunities this winter. He recently cut off negotiations to return to the Tigers for what would’ve been his 15th season, indicating he’d instead exhaust his opportunities at securing a Major League job. It seems that no club was willing to make Yang a guaranteed offer — he struggled through a down season in 2020 — so he’ll now look to earn a spot on the Rangers’ staff.
Yang’s 2020 season — which featured 172 1/3 innings of 4.70 ERA ball, a 20 percent strikeout rate and 8.6 percent walk rate — surely hampered his market this winter, but he still has several points working in his favor as he looks to realize his MLB dream.
First and foremost, he has a lengthy track record as one of the KBO’s most successful arms. Yang is a former KBO MVP who, from 2013-19, worked to a combined 3.35 ERA in more than 1200 innings. He’s also been a durable workhorse, starting at least 29 games in each of the past seven seasons. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, Yang tossed 172 1/3 innings over the life of 31 starts last season. While no MLB pitcher reached even 85 innings in 2020, Yang tossed more than double that workload. As teams look to navigate the season and monitor the workloads of their rotations, Yang would be one of the few pitchers in MLB who could at least theoretically be entrusted with a typical workload of 180-plus innings and 33-34 starts.
That won’t matter, of course, if he proves ineffective against big league hitters. But a player with his track record, recent workload and modest price tag is a perfectly reasonable flier for any team — particularly a rebuilding club like the Rangers.