Teams from the Korea Baseball Organization and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball must formally submit requests for status checks to negotiate with Major League free agents, just as MLB teams must tender status checks on a KBO or NPB free agent if they plan to pursue contract negotiations. At this point, there’s little to indicate that serious negotiations have taken place, but the fact that there’s interest is of note. Kim spent parts of 12 seasons pitching with the Landers — then named the SK Wyverns — from 2007-19 before signing a two-year, $8MM contract with the Cardinals in advance of the 2020 season.
As detailed here recently, Kim stands out as a perhaps unheralded but nevertheless intriguing post-lockout option for big league teams in need of rotation help — if he remains unsigned by that point. Kim dealt with some relatively minor injury issues this past season but has been a solid option both in the St. Louis rotation and bullpen, pitching to a 2.97 ERA with a 17.2% strikeout rate, an 8.4% walk rate and a 48.1% ground-ball rate in 145 2/3 Major League innings.
The extent to which Kim is seriously contemplating a return to South Korea at this juncture isn’t clear. He’s been dead set on continuing his MLB run since the 2021 season ended, but it’d be somewhat understandable if the ongoing lockout and lack of progress in talks at least has him mulling the possibility of returning home. He’s certainly had an odd MLB tenure, as his debut came during the shortened 2020 season (and the strict Covid-19 protocols that were in place throughout that summer) and was followed by a 2021 campaign that still began with limited fan attendance and had plenty of protocols throughout the season.
From a purely financial standpoint, it’d be most prudent to grind out the remainder of the lockout. Major League teams will offer considerably larger sums than their KBO counterparts; players on the very top end of the KBO pay scale generally earn $2MM to $2.5MM annually. Back in December, outfielder Sung-bum Na signed a six-year deal worth roughly $12.6MM total, which marked the largest deal in KBO history. Based on the fact that Kim earned $4MM annually with the Cardinals before he’d had any success in the Majors, he ought to be able to command a decidedly larger sum this time around if he’s willing to wait things out.
It’s certainly possible that Kim could settle for a one-year deal in a familiar setting with his old teammates, then aim for a return effort next winter. However, he’d be 34 years old at that point, and he’d run the risk of an injury or downturn in performance against KBO lineups — either of which could considerably weigh down his earning power.