Posting Fee Expectations for KBO players
Understanding Ryu, Kim, and Yang will help predict the posting fee for Kang
– Ryan Sadowski
Updated December 5, 2014
Over the past two weeks, the Major League posting bids for Korean pitchers Kwang-Hyun Kim and Hyeon-Jong Yang have been viewed as disappointing by the Korean media, Korean fans, and KBO teams. Despite initial hesitation, the SK Wyverns accepted the San Diego Padres’ $2 million bid for Kim while the Kia Tigers ended up rejecting the bid for Yang. Although the final bidding amount for Yang has not been disclosed, it was reportedly around $1.5 million.
After Hyun-Jin Ryu received a $25.7 million posting bid by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012, it appeared inevitable that the next batch of Korean players would receive bids that rivaled Ryu’s bid. In the upcoming weeks, the next KBO player to be posted will be Nexen Heroes’ shortstop Jung-Ho Kang. If successful, Kang would become the first position player to go straight from the KBO to the Major Leagues. Although I don’t expect Kang to fetch a bid that compares to Ryu’s, I expect his bid to be significantly higher than Kim’s and Yang’s.
Historically, the transition from Asia to the Major Leagues has had relatively mixed results. Some players, such as Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish, Shin-Soo Choo, and Chan-Ho Park, have had very good Major League careers. While others such as, Tsuyoshi Nishioka (posting fee $5.32 million, 3-year $9 million contract), Hiroyuki Nakajima (2-year $6.5 million contract), Kosuke Fukudome (4-year $48 million contract) and Kei Igawa (posting fee $26 million, 5-year $20 million contract), did not live up to expectations.
Nowadays, Major League teams have enough information about Asian baseball players that scouts are beginning to evaluate these players more accurately. Teams are able to identify which tools translate to the major leagues, and which tools tend to fall flat.
Coming out of Korea, Hyun-Jin Ryu had all of the tools that Major League scouts like to see. To note a few:
- Big, strong, durable frame that looked capable of withstanding the rigors of a 200 inning season.
- Very clean delivery that repeated nearly perfectly every time he made a pitch.
- Pin-point command and created excellent angle when he threw the ball away from arm-side.
- Projectable Major League curveball and a devastating Major League changeup.
- Young and had all of the signs that could project him to be a Major League #1 or #2 starter.
At the time of Ryu’s posting, Ryu could have been slotted into most Major League team’s rotation as a #3 or #4 starter. In 2012, #3-4 starters in the MLB were earning contracts that were worth about $11-13 million a year (Ex: Kyle Lohse 3-year $33 million). Usually if a team signs a #3 starter in free agency, that starter has been given a qualifying offer by his previous team. This means the new team signing that player will lose its first round draft pick. The loss of that draft pick has been valued at about $7 million by baseball experts.
Two additional factors worked to Ryu’s favor: 1) starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia and 2) the new ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2012, Sabathia was a big left handed pitcher that was dominating the Major Leagues (15-6 record, 3.38 ERA, 4.5 K/BB, 1.14 WHIP and 8-year $186 million contract). Ryu’s physical characteristics and delivery made him a comparison to Sabathia. Ryu looked like a shorter version of Sabathia. Also, the new ownership group led by Magic Johnson was a very aggressive buyer during the 2012 off-season. The Dodgers had a need for starting pitching, and the city of Los Angeles has the largest Korean population in the United States. This ultimately led to the Dodgers bidding $25.7 million in posting fees and offering an additional 6-year $36 million to Ryu.
Up to this point, the Dodgers have been right about Ryu (28-15 record, 3.17 ERA, 3.74 K/BB, 1.19 WHIP), as he has pitched like a #1 or #2 despite actually being the #3 pitcher behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke for the Dodgers.
Kwang-Hyun Kim is a long wiry left-handed pitcher. He has a good Major League fastball and a nasty slider. Unlike Ryu, Kim has not consistently shown a third pitch or the command necessary that would make him a safe pick to be a reliable Major League starter. Another major factor for Kim is his injury history. Although he has since fully recovered, a brain injury and shoulder issues have plagued Kim since 2010. Despite Kim’s pitfalls, he does appear to have all the pieces in play to be a fantastic left-handed matchup pitcher. His slider devastated left-handed hitters in Korea for years, and San Diego should be a great environment for him to pitch.
Unfortunately for Kim and the Wyverns, left-handed matchup pitchers do not have the same value as a #3-4 major league starter. Javier Lopez, who has been the most reliable left-handed matchup pitcher in baseball for years, signed a 3-year $13 million contract with the San Francisco Giants in 2013. With that being said, the lower bid on Kim was likely justified because the Padres are more likely to find somebody that will be able to fill a left-handed reliever role in their minor league system than the Dodgers would have trying to find a front line starting pitcher in their minor league system.
Hyeon-Jong Yang was recently (November 22) posted by the Kia Tigers. There were several U.S. media outlets reporting that Yang threw between 92-96 mph, which was inaccurate. The Korean version of “PFX” confirmed this inaccurate report, by showing that Yang’s average fastball was 144.08 kph or 89.528mph in 2014. With that being said, Yang was a good pitcher in Korea.
He has a four pitch repertoire, which includes a solid fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. Despite having some up and downs in his career, the 2014 season proved to be one of his best, as he earned the “Choi Dong-Won Award” for the best domestic pitcher in the KBO (16-8 record, 4.25 ERA, 2.14 K/BB, 1.39 WHIP).
Yang is a very good pitcher, and I don’t have any doubt that he would have been better than pitchers that will get an opportunity to pitch in the Major Leagues in 2015. Unfortunately for Yang, most of those pitchers will be minor league call-ups, and they will be playing for the Major League minimum salary. Those players will earn the minor league 40-man roster salary when they are not in the Major Leagues ($500 per day or $90,000 a year).
Yang does not appear to have to the tools to be a pitcher who can be used as a specialist. His stuff and command limit his ability to be a stable Major League starter. Since Yang’s posting did not allow him to test the Major Leagues in 2015, he will have another opportunity to play in the States by being posted after the 2015 season or as an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season. Because he is such a nice guy and a great teammate, I hope he eventually gets the opportunity to prove everybody wrong and make it as a regular in a Major League rotation.
After explaining the reasoning behind the posting fees for Ryu, Kim, and Yang, the understanding of what we can expect teams to post on Jung-Ho Kang is much easier to assess. For the past three seasons, Kang has been an MVP candidate in the KBO. In my first season in the KBO (2010), I can remember being extremely impressed with Kang’s raw tools, which included a good arm, a Gary Sheffield like swing, and pants that looked like they were spray painted on.
I have now watched Kang regularly for the past five seasons. I believe that Major League scouts see that Kang has the raw power necessary despite the fact that there has been an offensive explosion throughout the KBO in 2014. These days in Major League baseball, teams are paying big for power, and Kang’s power will likely translate to home runs in most big league stadiums. Kang has a thick lower half which may have scouts believing that his ability to play shortstop may be limited in the long run. Currently, Kang fields balls too deep and close to his body, which many scouts believe is a teachable correction. If Kang learns how to attack balls and field them with better technique, many of the teams that don’t think Kang can stay at SS will see him as a long term option at 3B. Even if Kang is too thick to play SS and doesn’t develop the glove to play 3B, he still clearly has the defensive tools to be a Major League corner outfielder.
This off-season, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez were the two highest profile Major League infield free agents. Sandoval signed a 5-year $95 million contract and Ramirez signed a 4-year $88 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. With both players off the market, the next tier of offensive-minded infielders are Chase Headley and Asdrubal Cabrera. Most project that Headley and Cabrera are worth a three or four year contract worth about $10 million annually. With Kang being more of an unknown, I would imagine his average annual value will be worth about 60-70% of Headley and Cabrera. In previous years, posting fees for Japanese infielders has been about the same as the player’s average annual value.
Due to Kang’s raw tools and the past history of the posting system for everyday Major League players coming from Asia, I expect Kang’s posting fee to be in the $6-9 million range. Also remember, the New York Yankees signed Korean amateur shortstop Hyo-Jun Park this season. I doubt that when the Yankees were scouting Park thoroughly, they neglected to watch Kang play. If the Yankees get a bid in for Kang, I believe that a bid of $10 million is attainable. If I had to pick a single number, I would guess the highest bid for Kang will be $7 million.
(Update: Since this article was posted, the Yankees acquired shortstop DiDi Gregorious from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 3 team trade)
Correctly assessing players out of Asia is becoming more and more important for KBO and MLB teams. KBO teams are spending more on buyout fees and producing more and more players that are likely to make the transition from the KBO back to the Major Leagues (most recently, Dana Eveland and Radhames Liz). Up to this point in 2014, the MLB posting system has not been friendly to the KBO or its players. Hopefully, the scouting process in the KBO becomes more advanced to help these players develop and progress.
Lastly, I would like to wish Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kwang-Hyun Kim, Hyeon-Jong Yang, and Jung-Ho Kang continued success on the field wherever they play in 2015.
Photo credit: OSEN, SBS, Yonhapnews