Left-hander Hyeon-jong Yang is officially returning to the Korea Baseball Organization, as the Kia Tigers announced that Yang has signed a four-year deal. (Hat tip to Jeeho Yoo of Yonhap News.) Yang will earn a signing bonus of roughly $2.53MM, and a little over $2.1MM in guaranteed salary over the course of the four-year deal. A hefty array of incentive bonuses are also available, as Yang can almost double his salary (around $4.04MM) if he hits all of his bonuses.
Yang posted a 5.60 ERA in his lone season in Major League Baseball, tossing 35 1/3 innings with the Rangers in 2021. After signing a minor league deal last winter, Yang ended up cracking the Texas roster and serving in a swingman role, starting four of his 12 games. Not a big strikeout pitcher even in his heyday in the KBO League, Yang didn’t miss many bats in the majors (15.6% strikeout rate) and he had plenty of trouble with the long ball, allowing nine homers in his brief time on the big league mound.
The Rangers sent Yang back and forth from Triple-A on a couple of occasions before ultimately designating him for assignment in September. Yang elected to become a free agent after the season, and early reports indicated that he was looking at returning to South Korea, and in particular a return to the Tigers, his longtime team.
As Yoo writes, there were a few hurdles to be jumped in negotiations between the two sides, with the larger amount of incentives reflecting the Tigers’ wariness about Yang’s struggles over the last two seasons. Even before heading to MLB, Yang posted a 4.70 ERA over 172 1/3 innings with the Gwangju-based team in 2020.
This was the worst full-season performance of Yang’s 14-year stint with the Tigers, though given his long history of success with the team, it isn’t surprising that the Tigers were interested in a reunion. Yang has a 3.83 ERA and a 19.77% strikeout rate over 1986 career innings in the KBO League (all with the Tigers), and he is a two-time winner of the Dong-won Choi Award as the league’s best starting pitcher. Yang was also named MVP of the KBO League as a whole in 2017, as well as Korean Series MVP as he led the Tigers to the championship.