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Cardinals sign Korean lefty Kim to 2-year deal worth $8 million

Cardinals sign Korean lefty Kim to 2-year deal worth $8 million

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Kwang Hyun Kim

Korean pitcher Kwang Hyun Kim holds a "Hello STL" sign after the Cardinals announced at a Busch Stadium press conference Tuesday that he had signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the team. Photo by Christian Gooden,  cgooden@post-dispatch.com

The Cardinals, who had only two games started by a lefthanded pitcher this past season,  announced the signing of 31-year-old Korean southpaw Kwang Hyun Kim at a Busch Stadium press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Kim signed a two-year contract worth $8 million. The Cardinals will pay a $1.6 million posting fee (20 percent of Kim's new contract) to his team in South Korea.  Kim, who pitched for the SK Wyverns in the Korean Baseball Organization, has been in St. Louis for a couple of days undergoing a physical and talking contract with the Cardinals.

Kim, who was named the best pitcher in the KBO this past season when he was 17-6 with a 2.51 earned run average, is said to average in the mid 90s on his fastball, with it ticking as high as 97. He also employs two sliders _ "a fast slider and a slow slider," he said.

Kim struck out 310 batters and walked only 68 over 326 1/3 innings in his past two seasons.

The addition of Kim gives the Cardinals six potential starters with that group also including Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright and, presumably Carlos Martinez, if his arm is up to it. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak, who announced Kim's signing, suggested Kim could be employed either in the bullpen or in the rotation or both but would be conditioned to be a starter next spring training.

"We had robust scouting reports on him," said Mozeliak of those who had watched him in Korea, including special assistant to the general manager Matt Slater and scout Jerry Ishii. "We had a lot of analytical support that backed up the success he was having in the KBO," Mozeliak. "

Kim, speaking through his translator and agent Jerry Kim (no relation), said, he preferred to start but "I respect the St.  Louis Cardinals' system. I respect their decision." 

Asked why he signed here instead with other interested  teams, Kim said, "A lot of Korean baseball fans like the St. Louis Cardinals because they are the best team in the National League. When I was a young boy and starting baseball, someday, I wanted to be a St. Louis Cardinal."

Kim said he also had spoken in Korea this fall to former Cardinals righthander Seung Hwan Oh and Oh cited the virtues of playing in St. Louis, with Kim saying he would ask Oh for more details about St. Louis when the two meet up in Korea this winter.

Nicknamed "KK," Kim was 136-77 for his career in Korea and has pitched 12 professional seasons. He underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in 2017 and, before that, he suffered a stroke after the 2010 season with paralysis to various parts  of his body, including the left side of his face. He recovered to pitch midway through the 2011 season and hasn't experienced any difficulty since then.

In 2012, Kim suffered from shoulder issues that kept him sidelined for the first two months of the season. 

Earlier this offseason, the Cardinals had been mentioned as possible suitors  for  ace Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu, a 32-year-old Korean-born lefthander. 

Kim was "posted" on Dec. 5, meaning he had a month to sign with any major league team, with his KBO club to receive a "posting" fee depending on the size of the contract. 

The Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, San Diego, Kansas City and Arizona all were reported interested in Kim, who made base of $1.408 million, but actually more than $2 million, this past season in the third year of a four-year, $8 million deal. He also helped pitch the Korean team into qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games in 2020 but will be unable to pitch as a major leaguer. Kim was on Korea's 2008 Olympic gold medal baseball team.

Kim has been through the process before, although the posting procedure has since changed. The Padres were awarded exclusive negotiating rights for Kim in November 2014 after bidding $2 million in a posting fee. Contract negotiations ended without an agreement, and Kim returned to the SK Wyverns.

Rookie Genesis Cabrera made the only two starts by a lefthander this past season.  In 2018, Austin Gomber started 11 times. In 2017, there was only one start made by a Cardinals southpaw, Marco Gonzalez.

Jaime Garcia, with 30 starts in 2016, is the last lefthander to be in the Cardinals’ rotation most of the season.

Kim will wear jersey No. 33, last sported by Drew Robinson, a utilityman who was with the club for a couple of brief stints in 2019. Kim said Busch Stadium was bigger than he had imagined and was pleasantly surprised to see a pictures of himself and his family on the huge scoreboard in the outfield.

Kim said, "I'm very honored to be a St. Louis Cardinal. Every single step (he takes) I feel a big history." 

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