MLB hurlers reach last minute dealsJust days ago, their immediate future was up in the air, but Kim Byung-hyun and Seo Jae-weong, two Major League Baseball pitchers, finally came to terms with their respective clubs.
On Sunday, Kim signed a one-year, $1.25-million contract with the Colorado Rockies, with team options for a $2.5 million base salary or a $250,000 buyout in 2007. He could earn an additional $1.5 million if he pitches 200 innings next season.
The day was the negotiating deadline with Kim for the Rockies, which would have lost negotiating rights had it not re-signed him Sunday. The team also took a step back from its stance that negotiations would have to take place face-to-face with Kim. When Kim could not obtain a U.S. visa to get him to Denver before Sunday, team officials opted for a conference call to finalize the contract.
Kim, who has never been a full-time starter at the major league level, pitched a career-high 148 innings in 2005. In 22 starts and 18 relief appearances, Kim went 5-12 with a 4.86 earned run average.
At the young, rebuilding Rockies, where no outfielder is older than 26 and only six regulars are over 30, Kim, soon-to-be-27 and entering his eighth major league season, will be counted on to provide some leadership. He has been a loner throughout his career, largely because of the language barrier, and his unique preparation routine and habit of dozing off whenever he could rest his head somewhere have always been targets of ridicule ― not always in jest ―from teammates.
But now, Kim will be counted on to become more than just a guy who pitches every five days, and manager Clint Hurdle told mlb.com that the Rockies want to embrace Kim and make him a bigger part of the team than before.
With seniority and experience come responsibility and accountability, and it’ll be interesting to see how the usually reticent and aloof Kim handles this additional pressure and how it will affect his on-field performance.
In an earlier move last Wednesday, Seo was traded from the New York Mets to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for two young pitchers. Tim Hamulack was also shipped from the Big Apple to LA, but the key to the deal is the 28-year-old Korean right-hander, who was also rumored to be on his way to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Seo, who went 8-2 with a 2.59 ERA in 2005, was on the bubble in the Mets starting rotation that includes five more established veterans. Following the first trade of his career, though, Seo should be able to secure the No. 4 starting spot behind Brett Tomko, Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Odalis Perez.
The Dodgers didn’t re-sign Jeff Weaver, who won 14 games for them last season, but the acquisition of Seo was already seen as an indication that the LA club was prepared to begin the new season without Weaver. The Dodgers’ general manager Ned Colletti also said the team would pursue another starter in either free agency or a trade, all but ruling out bringing back Weaver. By joining the Dodgers, Seo has gone from a potential powerhouse in the National League East Division to a mediocre team that finished 11 games shy of first place in the NL West last season and wasted money on questionable free agents Nomar Garciaparra, Bill Mueller and Kenny Lofton in the winter.
With the exception of Jeff Kent, the lineup lacks a consistent power hitter. Outfielder J.D. Drew is a 30-homer threat but has never played a full season in his eight-year career because of assorted injuries.
Although team officials seem to like the Seo deal ― Colletti told the Los Angeles Times, “Seo was very successful last year. He’s a no-frills guy, a determined type of guy” ― the only things working in his favor may be the cavernous pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, and Korean teammate Choi Hee-seop at first base.
The key for Seo will be his endurance. Because of trips to the minor leagues, Seo only pitched 90.1 innings in 2005 and 118.2 innings the previous year, when a standard barometer for a full-time starter is 200 innings. The Dodgers gave up promising young hurlers Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll for Seo, and will count on the Korean to help improve the team’s overall ERA, which ranked 12th in the 16-team National League last season.
For Seo, another trip to the minor league is not an option this time.
by Yoo Jee-ho