Free agent pitcher Oh Seung-hwan to visit US to talk to MLB clubs

January 3, 2016
Closer Oh Seung-hwan was the most dominant relief pitcher for Korea.(Yonhap)

Closer Oh Seung-hwan was the most dominant relief pitcher for Korea.(Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — South Korean free agent pitcher Oh Seung-hwan will soon travel to the United States for talks with interested big league clubs, a source close to the player said Monday.

“Multiple Major League Baseball clubs have taken interest in his service,” the source said. “And Oh will travel to the United States sometime this week.”

Oh, South Korea’s all-time saves leader who has also enjoyed a successful stint in Japan, has been training on his own in Guam since Dec. 18. He had previously traveled to the United States in November to gauge interest.

The 33-year-old had spent most of the offseason under a cloud of overseas gambling charges, but Seoul prosecutors last Wednesday filed for a summary order and are seeking a fine of 7 million won (US$5,960), essentially letting the right-hander off the hook and allowing him to keep pursuing his big league dreams.

Oh quickly issued an apology, saying that he was sorry about his inconsiderate actions and will focus solely on baseball from here on out.

Whether Oh’s gambling charges will hinder his contract negotiations remain to be seen. An American League club official told Yonhap News Agency that he doubted Oh’s charges would be a big problem for MLB teams, if the situation was sorted out quickly and if Oh avoided a jail term.

Big league clubs have at times looked past players’ off-field issues. Most recently, the New York Yankees acquired All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for four prospects late last year, despite the Cuban left-hander’s domestic violence charges.

Earlier in December, Matt Bush, a troubled former No. 1 draft pick who was incarcerated for a drunk driving incident, signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers, the same franchise that gave Josh Hamilton, a former first overall pick who battled a drug addiction, a second chance in 2015 following his relapse.

Also in January last year the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Taiwanese pitcher Tsao Chin-Hui to a minor league deal even after he was banned from the Taiwanese league over match-fixing allegations.

Oh has been a dominant closer since making his professional debut with the Samsung Lions in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2005. He earned an all-time record of 277 saves in nine seasons with the Lions, along with a 28-13 record, a 1.74 ERA and 625 strikeouts in 510 1/3 innings.

He pitched the past two seasons with the Hanshin Tigers in the Central League of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), and led his league in saves in both years. In 2014, he had 39 saves with a 1.76 ERA while striking out 81 in 66 2/3 innings. Then last year, he tied Tony Barnette with 41 saves, despite a leg injury that prematurely ended his season in December, along with a 2.83 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings.