Last off season the Cubs were rumored to be interested in Korean Hyun Jin Ryu. The round lefty that resembles the build of David Wells came over to the MLB via the posting process and ended up signing with the bid winning Dodgers. The winning post amount alone was $25 million for the right to negotiate with Ryu’s agent. In the end the Korean import agreed to a six year deal worth $36 million. Lost in the shadows of that international signing was that fellow country man Suk Min Yoon had also considered making the jump. The young righty even hired Scott Boras as his agent, fueling the thoughts that Yoon would test his skills in the Major Leagues starting in 2013.
However, the starter ended up deciding to remain in Korea and played out his contract with the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization. He finished the season with a 3.12 ERA over 153 innings pitched. Furthermore, he kept his strikeouts per nine innings ratio over 8.0, as he has done his entire career in Korea, while also featuring a career low 1.9 walks per nine calculation.
Fast forward to the current off season for the Cubs, which started today, and it should be noted that Yoon is now a free agent. In other words, all MLB teams are free to negotiate for the righty’s services without having to worry about factoring a posting fee into their budget. However, the flip side of the coin would be the free market competition that the Cubs would face for his services. The North Siders and the Rangers were reported to have aggressively bid on Ryu last year. After getting bounced in game 163 tonight and the possible departure of free agent starter Matt Garza, Texas could yet again compete with the Cubs. The same could be said for the Yankees, a club that agent Boras also loves to bring into the marketplace.
So what could Yoon demand on the open market in the MLB? Like Ryu, Yoon is currently 26 years old. Unlike Ryu, the former Kia Tiger has a lanky build and apparently just measures in at six feet tall. Yoon’s pitch arsenal features a low to mid 90s fastball offset by plus slider and a change up. Ryu’s travel across the Pacific Ocean was encouraged by solid performances on the international stage as well. The lefty held his own against the favored Cuba side in the 2008 Olympics, helping to lead his country to a gold medal in what currently is the final baseball competition at the summer games. Ryu was also a productive starter for the Korean squad that made it to the WBC final in 2009.
Mean while Yoon also has a solid resume on the world stage. The righty shut down a high powered Venezuelan offense in the semi final game that got Korea into the 2009 WBC final against Japan. Yoon was also Ryu’s teammate on the 2008 gold medal team and does possess a government issued free pass to avoid military service. The latter is a key fact as all able bodied Korean males are required to serve in the military for two years prior to the age of 35, posing as an road block for many Korean athletes to ply their trade internationally.
Ryu of course has translated his success abroad to the Majors in his first season of ball in America. He finished with a 14-8 record and an even 3.00 ERA. Other stats such as innings pitched and walks allowed have also translated accurately, with only his strikeout total and WHIP taking a dip from his norms in Korea.
Yoon certainly can imitate Ryu’s upside. The righty features similar numbers that Ryu had over in Korea. There is always some doubt cast on Asian imports based on the mixed results seen overall in recent history, but the level of competition Yoon has seen in South Korea would convert to that of what a prospect would see in Triple A. Backed by his international experience, Yoon would figure to be a three or four starter in the rotation at worst.
Put it this way. If this Cubs front office is willing to invest $52 million over four years to a then 29 year old Edwin Jackson, the North Siders can certainly seriously entertain a $32 to $40 million four year deal for a 26 year old that still has time to hit his true potential. His age and current skill set alone would have him fit in nicely with the current and coming crop of young talent the Cubs are amassing.
If the Cubs seriously pursue Shin Soo Choo and retain reliever Chang Yong Lim, Woon would also have a pair of familiar faces to keep him company in the clubhouse and away from work, further easing the transition into a new country and culture. The Cubs once lost out on the next big import from Korea and saw Ryu thrive in Los Angeles for the playoff bound Dodgers. It would not be far fetched to see the same result with Yoon at Wrigley Field by the target 2015 or 2016 date to be true contenders.