Cardinals sign Korean lefty Kim to 2-year deal

December 18th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Looking for depth, flexibility and innings, the Cardinals found their pitcher in Korean left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim.

The team announced a two-year deal with Kim and introduced him at a press conference at Busch Stadium on Tuesday. The deal is worth $8 million, and the Cardinals will pay a 20 percent (in this case, $1.6 million) posting fee to the SK Wyverns, the team Kim played for in the Korean Baseball Organization for 12 years.

Once the signing was made official on Wednesday, the Cardinals designated outfielder Adolis García for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. García spent the entire 2019 season on the 40-man roster but in Triple-A Memphis, where he hit .253 with 32 home runs. 

Kim -- nicknamed "KK" -- will wear No. 33 for the Cardinals. He went 17-6 with a 2.51 ERA and 180 strikeouts over 190 1/3 innings in 31 games (30 starts) in 2019. Over 12 seasons in the KBO, the 31-year-old has a 3.27 ERA and 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He missed the entire ‘17 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he returned healthy and had a 2.98 ERA in ‘18. Kim didn’t struggle with command when he returned to the mound -- he had 2.0 walks per nine innings in ‘18 and 1.8 BB/9 last season. He has a fastball that hovers around the mid-90s, but his biggest weapon is his slider.

Interest from the Cardinals began in the summer, and once he was posted on Dec. 5, special assistant to the general manager Matt Slater made sure Kim’s name was in the Cardinals' discussions on how to add pitching for 2020. The Cardinals met with Kim’s agents, John Boggs and Jerry Kim, at the Winter Meetings in San Diego and finalized the deal over the weekend.

“We had robust scouting reports on him, we had a lot of analytical support that backed up the success he’s having over in the KBO, and we looked at our needs, especially if you look at the left side of our pitching, it made a lot of sense to pursue this,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “Over the past couple of weeks, as we were exploring the trade market, the free-agent market, it brought us back to KK. We’re really excited that we were able to get this done.”

So what does the addition of Kim mean to the Cardinals? First, it’s a low-risk but potentially high-reward deal. The short-term contract allows the Cardinals to see how Kim’s talent plays in the Majors, and if it translates, they’ve got another elite pitcher on their roster.

It also appears this move takes them out of the starting pitching market, and they can turn their focus to other needs, like the offense. Kim gives the Cardinals six potential starters, including , , , and , who is working toward a return to the rotation if his shoulder can withstand the workload.

Kim also gives the Cardinals a lefty in the rotation -- something they haven’t had consistently since in 2016 -- plus depth and flexibility, as he’s able and willing to work out of the bullpen if needed.

“When you look at our rotation going into the season, there’s certainly some question marks,” Mozeliak said. “We felt like having somebody, especially from the left side, that could start, had a lot of value to us. So I think the most important thing is, in KK’s case, he can be in either role. He’s going to come to camp, get stretched out and he’s going to get every opportunity to be a starter.”

Whether or not Martínez would be in the rotation stalled some talks with other free-agent starters because they wanted a guaranteed rotation spot -- something the Cardinals might not have been able to do until January or early February. Although Kim said he’s aiming to be a starter, he was also OK with appearing out of the bullpen.

“It helped because then you don’t have to force-guarantee somebody,” Mozeliak said. “Most importantly, I don’t want to represent him as a swingman, I want to represent him as a starter. He knows that if it doesn’t work out in the rotation, he can go to the bullpen. This is just an opportunity that gave us some protection going into Spring Training.”

Kim arrived in St. Louis on Monday -- just in time for a snowstorm. But his excitement to be a Cardinal didn’t wane because of the temperature or the snow on the ground. He walked around Busch Stadium, saw the clubhouse and saw the video board that had a welcome message for him and his family.

“The city isn’t huge, but it feels very comfortable,” Kim said through his translator and agent, Jerry Kim. “But the stadium is great. [I feel] great. Bigger than [I] expected. [I] watched the internet and [saw] some pictures, but bigger than [I] expected. [I have] a very strong message to St. Louis.”

The newest Cardinal then held up a handmade sign that said "Hello STL."

Kim is aiming to become the 15th South Korean-born pitcher to appear in the Majors and the second for St. Louis, following right-hander Seunghwan Oh. Kim said he spoke with Oh about playing in the United States, and Oh highly recommended the Cardinals. Now that the deal is done, Kim said that he will ask Oh for more details back in Korea this winter.

“There are a lot of Korean baseball fans that like the St. Louis Cardinals because they are the best team in the National League,” Kim said. “When [I] was a young boy just starting baseball, [I] said someday [I] wanted to be a St. Louis Cardinal.”