International Free Agent Profile: Suk-Min Yoon, Starting Pitcher

Richard Heathcote

Korean starting pitcher Suk-Min Yoon might decide to leave Korea for a career in Major League Baseball. Could he be a fit for the Mets in 2013?

A few weeks back, we took a look at the market for international free agents. For previous entries in this series, check out the storystream.

At the beginning of November 2011, Suk-Min Yoo — the then-reigning MVP of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) — hired Scott Boras as his agent. Talk immediately began about his team, the Kia Tigers, posting the young right-hander. He may have hired Boras with the intent of being posted in mind, or Boras may have convinced him to talk to his team about it. Regardless, by mid-November, Yoon had changed his mind and decided to remain with his team and play the 2012 season in Korea.

Now 26, Yoon qualifies as an international free agent, meaning that he can come to play in the United States without having to be posted. The question is whether or not he wants to at this point in his career. While nobody can say for sure right now, I personally think that the signs point to him coming to North America. Most notably, there's the fact that Scott Boras is still his agent. Player unions are relatively weak in Asia, and players generally are still at the mercy of their teams. Having Scott Boras as your agent — someone who is pricey, if the stories are true — and accepting the relative low contracts that Asian baseball clubs are wont to give does not add up. Why have Scott Boras as your agent and allow him to collect a large portion of your relatively modest contract when you can hire someone else who collects less of your relatively modest contract?

Yoon's stats for the past four years are as follows:

Year ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 Hits/9 HR/9
2012 3.12 2.82 153.0 8.1 1.9 7.1 0.5
2011 2.45 2.75 172.1 9.3 2.3 7.2 0.5
2010 3.83 3.05 101.1 8.4 3.2 8.5 0.4
2009 3.46 3.33 119.2 8.8 3.3 8.3 0.7

Yoon is on the small side, standing at an even six feet and weighing 180 pounds. He throws in the mid-90s, though, and complements his fastball with a hard, biting slider and a change-up that MLB scouts describe as above average. Though a starter, he has only thrown what we would consider an entire season's work (~175+ IP) once, in 2011. As best I can gather, the average starter in the KBO throws around 150 to 180 innings, making 25 to 30 starts, per season, often supplementing those starts with relief outings here and there.

Does He Make Sense For The Mets?

If Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan’s premier major league, is considered to be "AAAA" baseball, the Korean Baseball Association can be thought of as "AAA," if even that much. While Korea is generally viewed as the foil of Japan — in terms of reception, competition, and the like, in international competitions — there is indeed something of a steep drop off in terms of talent between the two when it comes to their professional baseball leagues. Case in point: In 2012, Brandon Knight led the KBO with a 2.28 ERA. Yes, that Brandon Knight.

Going into the 2013 season, the Mets' starting rotation consists of Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, and Dillon Gee. Of that group, Santana and Gee are coming off of injuries that may cast some doubt as to their ability to pitch in 2013, at least in terms of length or effectiveness. Outside of them, the rotation is more-or-less solid. Dickey had minor surgery, but his ability to pitch at the level we are used to is not in doubt. Niese and Harvey are both coming off of strong 2012 campaigns, and are expected to only get better barring unforeseen circumstances. Unless a trade takes place — or Santana or Gee starts the season on the disabled list — a spot in the rotation for Yoon seems doubtful.

But a spot in the bullpen is much more feasible. The Mets' bullpen wasn't very good this year, to put it lightly. Frank Francisco and Bobby Parnell are the only certain locks to return in 2013, and Josh Edgin is very likely to return. That leaves almost half of the bullpen up for grabs. Some marginal players are likely to be given spots, and perhaps dark horses like Robert Carson or Elvin Ramirez earn a spot in spring training. And then, of course, there are other free-agent signings. Regardless of how the bullpen is eventually put together, there's space for Yoon.

All of that is secondary to a bigger question: Is Yoon good enough to occupy a spot on the Mets' roster to begin with?

This is, of course, a bit harder to answer. Looking at history, many other highly-touted pitchers from South Korea came to the United States to play baseball after having some degree of success in their native country in amateur ball or in the KBO, and did not perform all that well.

Jung-Kuen Bong was a standout amateur athlete in Korea, but he was not able to adequately conquer the upper minor leagues, nor the majors, when he came to America. The same goes for Sun-Woo Kim, Jae-Kuk Ryu, and Cha-Seung Baek, though none of those three were of the pedigree that Bong was — or that Yoon seems to be. On the flip side, Chan-Ho Park made himself a decent career here in the U.S., as did Mets luminary Jae Seo. The majority of those players didn't immediately make the jump to the bigs, and spent some time in the minors.

If Yoon decides to come to North America, even with Scott Boras as his agent, I don’t expect him to command a large contract. Wei-Yin Chen, who was signed by the Orioles last season, was given a three-year, $10.7 million contract with a $4.75 million dollar team option for a fourth year. Like Yoon, Chen was also 26 when he signed with the Orioles and also sits in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball, and throws a hard slider. Unlike him, though, is the fact that Chen is a lefty and had considerably more experience and success as a pitcher in a tougher environment.

So, at best, Yoon might receive a contract similar to Chen’s. Because, quite frankly, he is not as good of a pitcher as Chen is, I highly doubt he makes that. With his age and Boras as his agent, he could theoretically get a short-term multi-year contract, but I don’t see how any team might justify giving him more than a million or two per year, at most.

All in all, I’m not too enthused by Suk-Min Yoon. If he isn’t able to win a spot in the rotation or the bullpen, the money that he’d be making would be a waste. The millions that he might make in the minor leagues might make a difference if applied elsewhere on the big-league roster.

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