Kwang-Hyun Kim is returning to South Korea. The former Cardinals southpaw has a four-year deal with the SSG Landers, his former team in the Korea Baseball Organization (relayed by Jeeho Yoo of Yonhap). He receives a guarantee of approximately $12.3MM.
Daniel Kim reported this morning the Landers had tendered a status check on the southpaw. That indicated they were interested in bringing the Seoul native back to South Korea, and he and the team wrapped up a deal fairly quickly thereafter. Kim starred for the Landers (then known as the SK Wyverns) for the entirety of his career before making the jump to MLB over the 2019-20 offseason.
He’ll now return to the Incheon-based club, with whom he made his professional debut as an 18-year-old back in 2007. By his second season, he’d developed into a high-end starting pitcher. He posted a 2.39 ERA across 162 innings during his sophomore campaign, kicking off a stretch of three consecutive years with an ERA below 3.00. Kim didn’t quite sustain that kind of run prevention long-term, but he’d log 130+ frames with a sub-4.00 mark in five of his next eight seasons. That included a 2.51 ERA in a personal-best 190 1/3 innings in 2019, a strong showing that set the stage for him to come to North America the following winter.
The Wyverns made Kim available to MLB teams via the posting process, and he landed with the Cardinals on a two-year, $8MM deal. 2020 proved an anomalous year, as the season was delayed, shortened and played without fan attendance. Teams also had to deal with tight COVID-19 protocols, and the Cardinals’ season was put on hold for a couple weeks by a virus outbreak that necessitated a spate of late-season doubleheaders.
That was no doubt an especially stressful time for a player acclimating to a new environment and league, but Kim performed well in his first MLB season. He worked to a 1.62 ERA over 39 innings, compensating for a mediocre 15.6% strikeout rate by throwing a solid amount of strikes (7.8% walk percentage) and inducing ground-balls on over half the balls in play against him. Kim certainly benefited from the Cardinals’ stellar infield defense and an inflated 86.6% strand rate, but he also showed the makings of a capable rotation piece.
He backed that up over a greater body of work last year. Kim tallied 106 2/3 frames with a 3.46 ERA, again succeeding despite a lack of missed bats and a fastball that typically checked in around 90 MPH. His 47.4% grounder rate remained above-average, and he found success both in an early-season rotation role and in a bullpen stint after some elbow inflammation sent him to the injured list in mid-August.
Between his two seasons, Kim tallied 145 2/3 frames of 2.97 ERA ball. Fielding independent metrics (4.22 FIP and 4.89 SIERA) indicate he was probably fortunate to keep runs off the board at that clip. Yet even had his ERA been more aligned with peripherals that suggested he was a back-of-the-rotation arm, he’d have still easily outperformed the cost of the Cards’ modest investment.
In all likelihood, those will prove Kim’s career numbers at the big league level. He’s 33 years old (34 in July), so the four-year term will keep him with the Landers through his age-36 season. While it’s possible he could try to explore another jump to MLB at that point, it’s more probable he’ll play out the remainder of his career in his home country.
Kim’s return to Korea may also be the first instance of the ongoing lockout definitively leading a player to leave the majors. As recently as mid-February, it appeared as though Kim had intended to wait out the work stoppage and continue his MLB career. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams explored at the time, he appeared to have a shot at a multi-year deal. Kim’s ground-ball tendencies, control and excellent numbers when facing batters the first time in an outing made him an intriguing option for clubs seeking both rotation and left-handed relief help. With teams barred from communicating with major league free agents for more than three months (and counting), he’ll bypass that uncertainty and return to a familiar setting with the Landers on a long-term deal.
That’s not to say Kim “settled” for a return to Korea. His deal is worth 15.1 billion won, not coincidentally topping 15 billion won deals for Sung-bum Na and Dae-ho Lee that had previously been the largest guarantees in KBO history. Setting that record is presumably a point of pride for Kim, and he’d not have garnered a four-year guarantee had he remained in MLB. However, big league teams may have been willing to offer more than the roughly $3.075MM in average annual salary he’ll make on this deal had it been a typical offseason. A few other players have made the jump from MLB to foreign pro leagues this winter, but Kim would probably have garnered the most interest of that group had teams been able to keep in contact with his reps over the past few months.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.
phillies give me depression
12.3m guarantee is just something you can’t turn down
This is certainly a loss for fans at least partly due to the lockout by owners. Kwang-Hyun Kim is a solid pitcher and a great competitor, best of luck to him!
Please, Hammer. Don't hurt 'em.
Kwang-Hyun Kim is incapable of even pitching 5 innings. He is incapable of striking people out. He is incapable of posting a solid spin rate. He is incapable of preventing walks. Worst of all, you can only get that out of Kim half the time because he is going to spend the other half of the season on the injured list. That’s still a really low price for him over 4 years though. Barely over $3 million a year. Someone would have given him at least half that for 1 season in MLB. Kim is good a run prevention but only in very small sample sizes and he requires huge breaks of no pitching at all in between. I like Kim for who he is but that guy is no major league starting pitcher. He will never stay healthy long enough or even pitch deep enough into games when he is healthy to be considered a true strating pitcher. In the days of Openers, Kim is an exaggerated opener who has no flash and still spends most of the season injured. ERA doesn’t matter if you can’t pitch enough innings to make it worth it.
You hate to love him. The old, it’s me not you. He’s going to see you on the tarmac, crying hysterically with a boom box on your shoulder.
Hammer’s always competing with himself for most long winded comments on the site.
5 innings is better than 2 from a opener? Kim is a great talent
I always liked the guy and always wished he had wipe out stuff to live up to a nickname like KK lol. I give him big props for making the transition he did, when he did, and to perform as well as he did despite all that and also not having dominant stuff speaks to how good of a pitcher he was. Hats off and best of luck to him in Korea.
I feel the same, was hoping to see him and his high groundball rate return to the Cardinals. Sad to see him go back to the Wyverns.
Not $4MM per year, but a nice four-year guarantee in a world with few guarantees just now for a 33 year old hurler.
I would think he could have gotten 2/$12.3M or, worst-case, 3/$12.3M – or something like that – from an MLB team.
He would of gotten more no doubt, but most likely he just wanted to go home and play.
Or he just wanted to actually sign a contract, play games and make some money. A potential that’s looking less and less likely in MLB this season.
From a MLB team, I’m gonna laugh my ass off all the way back to Russia about that. Don’t you know, the owners are working on ruining there value that way when the dollar collapses the everyday man can own a baseball team for pennies on the dollar making it extremely easy for one person to BUY THEM ALL!
We saw the same business model in Britain when Napoleon lost the war? Rothschild
Excellent idea. Even better if he managed to get an opt out in the deal.
Good for him. Nice to see someone prioritising something other than money. Go home and enjoy playing, young man.
He did set the record for biggest KBO contract ever, so money seems to have been a factor.
Sounds like he “won” with this deal.
That’s cause your a monkeys uncle!
Ol’ Uncle Charlie
Would have liked to see him with the Cards again, but home has to look pretty good to him after the last two years…and he can know in his heart he’s good enough to play in the MLB.
Good luck and thanks, KK!
Yeah America is looking like the world’s biggest dumpster fire right now
When do KBO games start?
For the record, I liked the Dinos before it was cool.
Interesting. A bit of a blow to the Cardinals if they wanted him back as he’s a solid pitcher. He could have beaten the money if he waited, but $12MM guarantee to return home is a good thing.
Stupid greedy Americans
Oh just wait, it’s gonna get even better, for not the price of just one, not two, but three bailouts you get one economic reset! How lucky
Nice job. He realized that MLB isn’t coming back this year and even if it does, he would get a pro-rated salary.
Tomorrow, the MLB owners and the players union will finally agree to a new CBA and put an end to the 96-day work stoppage once and for all, so there will be the 152-game-shortened 2022 season beginning on April 11.
Ha Ha Ha! Nice joke!
My comment is no joke. Besides, MLB has already canceled the first 2 series of the upcoming 2022 season, so cut out that nonsense.
It’s going to be a few months before any agreement. Owners have no interest in the first 2-month of the season anyway.
Oh this guy actually thinks there’s gonna be a season? Don’t you know about how crashing economies work? Once it crashes they the owners will he able to buy what everyone is selling for pennies! PENNIES!
Yeah, that’ll do wonders for their ticket sales…
My prediction all along has been that the parties will agree on a new contract on Thursday, March 24, 2022.
Peart of the game
SSG rotation with Kim, Font, Nova as the top three looks excellent and definitely puts them in playoff contention.
I was hoping he’d resign with STL
I’m surprised he left MLB could still be a solid starter in any clubs rotation