As the Cubs scour the free-agent market for cost-effective moves to improve their roster, you can bet they’re going to come across some players with latent talent. Whether that means picking up disappointing top prospect like Jharel Cotton after he was DFA’d by the A’s or targeting an aging centerfielder with a broken foot like Shogo Akiyama, they’re furniture shopping in the scratch-and-dent section.
That means kicking the tires on Korean lefty Kwang-hyun Kim, a 31-year-old starter who was recently posted by the SK Wyverns. The Cubs are reportedly among the teams interested, and it’s due to more than just their compulsion to sign post-prime southpaws with a history of elbow surgeries. Kim missed the 2017 season after Tommy John surgery, but he’s showed improved walk numbers the last several seasons and possesses a wicked slider that makes up for his otherwise meh stuff.
And for what it’s worth, Yu Darvish is in favor of bringing Kim aboard.
— ダルビッシュ有(Yu Darvish) (@faridyu) November 23, 2019
The Cubs would be looking at Kim as a back-of-the-rotation pitcher befitting his projected contract of $14 million over two years, so he’d really just be a cheaper replacement for Cole Hamels. That’s more or less where scouts peg him, though the reports gathered by Yoo Jee-ho of Yonhap News Agency are somewhat mixed when it comes to the lefty’s MLB potential.
Kim went 17-6 with a 2.51 ERA in 2019, finishing second in KBO with 180 strikeouts. After averaging somewhere around 4.0 BB/9 over his first eight seasons, topping out at 5.4 in 2011, Kim’s walk rates have decreased dramatically over the last four and he was at just 1.8 BB/9 last season. That’s got to be attractive to a team like the Cubs that has been vocal about their need for proven strike-throwers.
Many scouts believe Kim is a better option than righty Josh Lindblom, who’s returning to MLB after a successful run with KBO’s Doosan Bears, but neither is considered an ace by any stretch. One scout said Kim could be “a good mid- to back-end starter,” though adding a changeup would improve his outlook a good deal. He’s got that “tilt-a-whirl” slidepiece and a fastball that can touch 95 on occasion, so a third strong pitch would be ideal.
But that slider alone is going to get a lot of teams to bite, so it may be a matter of which of them is willing to put Kim in the rotation. While another scout believes the willingness to pitch in relief would guarantee Kim a job, he has professed a desire to start and should easily be able to occupy a rotation spot for “a middling team.” Wow, is that what the Cubs have become now?
In point of fact, they have. After missing the playoffs and vowing to be more targeted with their spending this winter, the early odds have the Cubs in the middle of the pack for 2020. Even so, going after Kim is neither a concession to mediocrity nor as damning as the faint praise above. Keep in mind that the overhaul of the development infrastructure we’ve seen so far this offseason isn’t just about improving prospects’, uh, prospects.
With new people and processes in place, the Cubs are hoping to author more springboard stories like those of Kyle Ryan, Rowan Wick, and Brad Wieck last season. For instance, they may feel they can develop Kim’s offspeed stuff or fine-tune another breaking ball in their Pitch Lab. Something similar could be true for Cotton, whose nasty change isn’t bolstered by a strong enough repertoire to produce sustained success.
What this all comes down to is that you can find reason to support your beliefs about Kim, whether they’re that he is an attractive buy-low pitcher with decent upside or yet another in the long line of doomed signings by Theo Epstein. Because, you know, it’s foolish to think that looking for value is a good decision. On the other hand, when cheap value is all you’re searching for, you’ve got very little margin for error.
I doubt the Cubs end up signing this guy, but I think he could very well end up being a serviceable starter who puts up strong numbers over the next couple seasons. You could do a whole lot worst than that for $7-8 million a year.