Four Notable Free Agents from the KBO the Yankees Could Consider
These four free agents from the Korean Baseball Organization could be of interest for the New York Yankees this offseason.
Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors pointed out in a recent mailbag that there are four veterans of the Korean Baseball Organization who are unrestricted free agents and possibly looking to make the jump to the major leagues in 2017. Thus far, the New York Yankees have not seriously pursued any of the notable free agents who have come over from the KBO in recent years. Will that change this offseason?
The most high-profile player Adams discusses is third baseman Jae-gyun Wang, who could potentially be a cheaper and younger (although not much) alternative to Chase Headley at the hot corner. Headley’s back issues are a big concern as he enters his age 33 season, and the Yankees don’t have a viable every day alternative in the upper minors (sorry Ronald Torreyes) if Headley goes down.
The 29-year-old Hwang hit .330/.391/.558 with 26 home runs and 104 RBI in 522 plate appearances for the Lotte Giants last season. That plus power is relatively recent, but he had 26 homers and a .521 SLG the previous year. He owns a career .285/.349/.433 with 114 HR over 10 professional seasons.
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Yoo Jee-ho of the Yonhap News Agency reports that Hwang will be in the United States until early December and speculates that he is seeking employment with an MLB club. If that is true, Hwang wouldn’t confirm it, telling Jee-ho, “I am going there to work out on my own. I’ve had a long year and I am looking forward to spending some time to recover.”
According to Jee-ho, “at least half a dozen big league clubs have taken an interest in Hwang.” It seems like New York should at least take a look, as several KBO players have been providing excellent value on relatively small commitments in the last few years. Jung Ho Kang‘s four year $11 million and Hyun Soo Kim‘s two year $7 million both look like major bargains at this point.
Three left-handed pitchers from the KBO are also unrestricted free agents this winter: 28-year-old Kwang-hyun Kim (3.80 ERA, 1.296 WHIP, and 7.7 K/9 in 132.2 IP), 28-year-old Hyeon-jong Yang (3.58 ERA, 1.325 WHIP, and 6.7 K/9 in 188.2 IP) and 29-year-old Woo-chan Cha . (4.38 ERA, 1.489 WHIP, 6.9 K/9 in 141.2 IP).
Those numbers are not bad for the offense-friendly environment of the KBO, but none of them seem like more than middle relievers or back of the rotation options from the limited information available. All three pitchers have received interest from MLB clubs in the past, however, so it seems likely that they will get scooped up this winter. They are worth a look for the Yankees probably.
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Maybe the best fit for New York among players coming over from the KBO this winter is former big leaguer Eric Thames who is coming off two straight 40 homer seasons and the 2015 league MVP. With the team trying to save money and avoid big money free agents, it would be nice to see the front office pursue some non-traditional routes this winter and get creative.