The Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization announced Thursday that they’ve placed former Pirates and Blue Jays righty Nick Kingham on release waivers. He’ll become a free agent upon clearing, while the Eagles (who just signed Yefry Ramirez) will be in the market for another pitcher. KBO clubs can roster up to three foreign players by rule (with a maximum of two pitchers).
Kingham’s release certainly wasn’t due to performance — he’s been excellent for the Eagles dating back to last season — but rather due to an arm issue that has plagued him throughout the season, as first reported by Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency. Kingham was shelved after just three appearances this year due to the injury, and Yoo writes that it flared back up in a recent bullpen session as he tried to work his way back. The team originally called the issue an upper arm strain, per Yoo, but I’m told that Kingham is dealing with bone spurs in his pitching elbow and will need surgery to remove them. That will sideline him for the foreseeable future but should have him ready to pitch for the 2023 season.
Given his former prospect pedigree and pre-injury success in the KBO, Kingham’s release is somewhat more interesting than the standard KBO release. Although he’s clearly not at full strength at the moment, he’s a former top-100 prospect who was pitching at a high level overseas prior to the injury. In 160 1/3 innings with the Eagles, Kingham posted a 3.13 ERA with a 22.5% strikeout rate, a 7.0% walk rate and a huge 62.6% ground-ball rate.
Obviously a release from the KBO, whether due to injury or performance, isn’t a typical path back onto the big league radar. Any Major League interest in Kingham will depend on both his recovery and the extent to which teams bought into the 6’5″ righty’s success. There’s been some clear, tangible change in his skill set at the very least, as Kingham never posted a ground-ball rate of even 50% in any full season (Major or Minors) but was at 60.5% in 2021 and 79.5% in his 16 1/3 innings this year. He’s reworked and ramped up the usage of both his changeup and curveball since signing overseas, which has contributed to the shift in his batted-ball profile.
Whether that leads to interest from big league teams — be it on a small Major League deal or a likelier non-guaranteed deal and Spring Training invite — remains to be seen. Barring that, Kingham ought to have renewed interest from clubs in both the KBO and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. He’ll pitch all of next season at age 31, so even if he ends up heading back to South Korea or jumping over to Japan, there’s still ample time for Kingham to put himself back in contention for a spot on a big league roster if he can continue to build on the strides he’s already made with the Eagles.
With the way MLB teams over value strikeout rates, especially for RHP, Kingham is probably best served recovering from his injury and staying overseas next year. I don’t see any team offering him a guaranteed MLB deal next season. He’ll make much more money in Japan or Korea if he can get healthy again.
Lets Go DBacks
He did a pretty fine job in keeping batters of base in the KBO but he wasn’t that much better than Dan Straily who got nothing more than a minor league contract. Rehabbing the rest of this season, my guess is that he won’t get anything more than a minor league contract in the US, so, yeah, he is probably better served in focusing a new contract overseas. Don’t see a NPB team taking the risk though, probably KBO again.
Such a shame for Kingham. Back in2014/15 he was on par with Taillon and thought to be part of a great rotation with Taillon Cole and Glasnow. He was going to make it to the show in 2015 but hurt his arm after only a couple of starts in AAA. Had TJ that May. Other than his big league debut game when he no hit the Cards for 7 2/3 innings . Kept having injury issues that has continued to the KBO. If only he could get healthy and stay healthy.
Yes, he was part of the much ballyhooed group of young Pirates coming up through the pipeline that was that period’s “light at the end of the tunnel” which never panned out. Just never know
I think I’d see the next A’s pitcher…
This has John Mozeliak written all over it in 2023.
Does he still get paid for the full season? That’s what would happen if an MLB team released an injured player.
As I understand it, KBO base salaries are guaranteed, but also typically contain significant performance incentives Kingham obviously won’t earn this year. MyKBO.net says that Kingham signed for a $700,000 salary and a $100,000 signing bonus, all of which he should get.
Taiwan’s CPBL is another option that would pay at least as well as a minor league deal.
Probably the longest article ever written about Nick Kingham.