The Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization announced on Friday that they’ve signed veteran Major League right-hander Carlos Villanueva to a one-year contract (h/t: Dan Kurtz of MyKBO.net and Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency). The ISE Baseball client will earn $1.5MM in his first venture into pro ball overseas. He’ll join former big leaguers Alexi Ogando and Wilin Rosario on the Eagles’ roster for the 2017 campaign.
Villanueva, who turned 33 this offseason, spent the 2016 campaign with the Padres and struggled to a 5.96 ERA in in 74 innings of relief. The veteran swingman did display some more encouraging peripherals, including a 7.4 K/9 rate, 1.7 BB/9 and an 11 percent swinging-strike rate, but interest in the soft-tossing righty (88.1 mph average fastball in ’16) never picked up much steam this winter. In fact, today’s signing marks the first time that Villanueva’s name has been tagged here at MLBTR since inking his one-year deal with San Diego in Jan. 2016.
Prior to his ugly 2016 season, Villanueva enjoyed a terrific year with the Cardinals, during which he logged 61 innings with a 2.95 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and a 42.4 percent ground-ball rate. That year served as an exclamation point on a nice five-year run that saw Villanueva toss 499 2/3 innings of 4.03 ERA ball while pitching for the Blue Jays, Cubs and Cards. Next year’s crop of free-agent pitchers is superior to the group that hit the open market this year, but a rebound campaign in the hitters’ paradise that is the KBO could either create renewed Major League interest in Villanueva or earn him a more substantial payday overseas in 2018 and beyond.