S. Korean reliever Oh Seung-hwan to sign with Cardinals

January 11, 2016
Oh Seung-hwan

Oh Seung-hwan

SEOUL (Yonhap) — South Korean free agent reliever Oh Seung-hwan is all set to join the St. Louis Cardinals, according to multiple reports on Monday.

Oh, South Korea’s career leader in saves, has reportedly passed his physical with the reigning National League Central champion, and the Cardinals are expected to formally introduce him at a press conference on Monday, local time.

The 33-year-old right-hander declared free agency last year after completing his second season with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). Prior to his NPB stint, Oh spent nine years with the Samsung Lions in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), picking up an all-time record of 277 saves.

Once the deal is finalized, Oh will become the third South Korean to sign a Major League Baseball (MLB) deal this offseason after Park Byung-ho of the Minnesota Twins and Kim Hyun-soo of the Baltimore Orioles. Park and Kim both jumped from the KBO.

Last season, two South Koreans, Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers and Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates, saw major league action, while Los Angeles Dodgers’ left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin missed the entire season because of a shoulder injury.

Before Oh, three other South Korean pitchers competed in both the KBO and the NPB before reaching the majors.

With both Ryu and Kang — nursing a leg injury suffered last September — expected back this year, there could be as many as six South Koreans in action in the majors in 2016, with at least one player in every division except for the NL East.

On top of his 277 saves in the KBO, Oh went 28-13 with a 1.74 ERA and 625 strikeouts in 510 1/3 innings. Oh then led the NPB’s Central League in saves in each of his two seasons there. In 2014, he recorded 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 September, along with a 2.83 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings.

The Cardinals boasted the NL’s best team ERA with 2.94 and the league’s second-best bullpen ERA with 2.82. Hard-throwing right-hander Trevor Rosenthal ranked second in the NL with 48 saves, while posting a career-low 2.10 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings.

Left-hander Kevin Siegrist was the primary setup man for Rosenthal last year, and went 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings. He led the majors with 81 appearances.

Oh could also face former KBO All-Star Kang, as the Cardinals and the Pirates are scheduled to meet 19 times this year. The division rivals were locked in a memorable duel for the NL Central title in 2015, and the Cardinals came out on top with the MLB-best 100 wins, two more than the Buccos.

Kang, who joined the Pirates after the 2014 season, went 4-for-13 with a home run and three RBIs against Oh from 2007 to 2014 in the KBO.

Kang posted a .327/.397/.519 line in 58 plate appearances against the Cardinals last season, along with two home runs, seven RBIs and four walks. One of the home runs came off Rosenthal on May 3, a game-tying shot in the top of the ninth at Busch Stadium. It was Kang’s first career big league long ball and also one of only three homers Rosenthal allowed last year.

Oh was summarily indicted last month on illegal overseas gambling charges with Seoul prosecutors also seeking a fine of 7 million won (US$5,780). Oh promptly issued an apology about his “inconsiderate actions” and said he will focus solely on baseball for the rest of his career.

Oh received a half-season suspension from the KBO for his gambling charges, though it will also come into effect if he returns to the South Korean league and doesn’t affect his ability to sign with a major league club as a free agent.