Buried at the tail end of Ken Rosenthal’s latest column ($) for The Athletic was a brief note about Korean lefty Kwang-Hyun Kim, who was just posted by KBO’s SK Wyverns on Friday. The 31-year-old starter had previously been posted five years ago, but returned to Korea after failing to reach an agreement with the Padres at that time. Now that he’s back on the block again, Rosenthal says the Cubs are among a handful of teams showing interest.
Based on circumstantial information only, that interest makes a helluva lot of sense. Kim will be 32 in July and has nearly 1,700 professional innings on an elbow that was reconstructed in 2017. What’s more, FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen wrote in their Top 50 Free Agents list that “Kim’s athleticism is seeping away, his arm slot has lowered a bit, and he’s less balanced over his blocking leg than he used to be.”
At the risk of drawing unnecessary comparisons to the trove of detractors who’re comparing Cubs target Shogo Akiyama to Kosuke Fukudome, that description of Kim sounds like what scouts say about Akiyama. You’ve got a post-prime player with an injury history whose skills appear to be diminishing just as he’s looking to move to MLB after a long career abroad. Not necessarily an airtight blueprint for success.
However, FanGraphs did still see fit to list Kim as their No. 41 free agent and projected him to earn $14 million over two years. Given how comfortable the Cubs have been with handing much larger sums to other aging southpaws, that’s a dadgum bargain. And it really could be if Kim is able to get results with what Longenhagen called a “tilt-a-whirl slider.”
His other stuff is pretty pedestrian, but he does appear to have matured over the last couple seasons to the point that walks are no longer a big issue. After averaging somewhere around 4.0 BB/9 over his first eight KBO seasons, topping out at 5.4 in 2011, Kim’s walk rates have decreased dramatically over the last four. He was at just 1.8 BB/9 last season after going 2.0, 2.7, 3.4 over the three previous campaigns.
This isn’t really anything to get excited about on the surface, though you wonder if perhaps the Cubs have seen something they think they can really exploit in their Pitch Lab. Maybe Kim’s got enough gas in the tank to amp the fastball up a little, or perhaps the forkball will fare better against hitters who’ve not seen it before. A dependable lefty on a budget contract, at least according to the going rate for starters, is something the Cubs have to explore.
In the end, I suspect this will amount to little more than kicking the tires as part of the standard offseason stone-turning. Even so, Kim represents the type of value-based shopping the Cubs are looking to do this winter as they seek to get the most possible bang for Tom Ricketts’ buck.