The Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball Organization announced this week that they’ve signed lefty Brandon Waddell for the remainder of the 2022 season (hat tip: Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency). Waddell, a client of Ballplayers Agency, will earn $230K between now and season’s end. Waddell had been pitching with the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate, but the Cards announced this morning that his contract has been sold to the Bears. Waddell will take the spot of reigning KBO MVP and former big leaguer Ariel Miranda, who has been released due to ongoing health issues in his left shoulder.
Signings of this nature are generally favorable for all parties involved. Waddell will be guaranteed a notable six-figure sum that trounces what he’d have earned by finishing out the season in Triple-A. He’d have needed to spend close to two months on the big league roster to earn that type of cash with the Cardinals, and there was no guarantee he’d be given that opportunity. The Cards, meanwhile, lose a bit of depth but receive a buyout for a player they might not have called to the Majors at all, and the Bears of course gain the rights to a pitcher who clearly intrigues them.
The 28-year-old Waddell is a former fifth-rounder of the Pirates who’s spent parts of two seasons in the big leagues, splitting his time between Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Baltimore. He’s logged just 12 2/3 total big league innings, yielding eight earned runs on 16 hits and 11 walks with nine strikeouts in that time.
Those grisly MLB numbers aside, Waddell has posted solid or better Triple- A numbers in three of his four seasons at that level. An 8.70 ERA in the juiced-ball 2019 campaign skews his overall numbers, but Waddell pitched to a 3.59 ERA in 135 1/3 innings there in 2018 and, since moving to the bullpen last year, has a 2.91 ERA with a 45-to-14 K/BB ratio in 43 1/3 innings of relief work.
The jump to the KBO will provide Waddell with some immediate earning power and also get a foot in the door for a potential second season overseas if he shows well in the second half of the 2022 KBO campaign. We’ve seen plenty of players in this mold carve out lengthy and lucrative careers pitching in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, and it’s always possible that improved production pitching in Asia will lead to an eventual big league return (as was the case with Miles Mikolas, Merrill Kelly, Chris Flexen and others in recent memory). The benefit is two-fold, as if Waddell can manage to pitch his way back into MLB consideration, he’d return as a free agent and thus be able to sign a Major League deal that is not beholden to the constraints of MLB’s arbitration system.
As for Miranda, the injuries are an obviously unfortunate development for a pitcher who, after 2022, looked like someone who could be on the cusp of an MLB return himself. The 33-year-old southpaw saw parts of Major League action in three seasons (2016-18) with the Orioles and Mariners, notching a 4.72 ERA in 223 innings along the way. He’s since had success in all three major Asian professional leagues — the KBO, Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League — with his 2021 season, in particular, generating intrigue.
Miranda racked up 173 2/3 innings of 2.33 ERA ball with the Bears last season, punching out a gaudy 31.7% of his opponents against a solid 8.8% walk rate. Last year’s 225 strikeouts were a KBO record, and Miranda parlayed that dominant showing into a $1.9MM payday that made him the second-highest paid foreign pitcher in the KBO, trailing only righty Drew Rucinski.
This year, however, Miranda made just three starts and totaled 7 2/3 innings with seven runs allowed and a staggering 18 walks, clearly demonstrating that he was never at full health. Now a free agent once again, Miranda will have options to consider, although it’s extraordinarily rare for a player to be released by a KBO club due to injury and then return to the KBO as a free agent, even with a different club. A return to NPB, the CPBL or perhaps a big league team (likely on a minor league deal) could still be options for Miranda this winter, health-permitting.