Another opportunity to add starting pitching from an unusual avenue appears to be happening in this offseason. First 18 year old phenom Shohei Otani opted to skip playing in NPB to go straight to the majors. Now 25 year old Ryu Hyun-Jin is going to be posted from the KBO. Korean players have been a part of major league baseball for a while now with Chan Ho Park and Shin-Soo Choo, but both of these players were signed directly out of high school. This would be the biggest posting from the KBO, and would give the Cubs a unique opportunity.
The pitcher Ryu Hyun-Jin is an interesting one. He burst onto the world scene with his performance for the Korean national team in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic. An interesting breakdown of pitchf/x data is available from the 2009 WBC from Fangraphs. The jist of what is out there about his stuff seems to be a 25 year old southpaw that tops out at 93. His fastball mostly sits in the high 80 to low 90 range, but his best pitch is the changeup. He has a curveball and slider, and relies on command more than stuff. Sound familar? The scouting report reads very much like Travis Wood, to me at least.
So why on earth should the Cubs be interested? The biggest reason is because of his age. At age 25, he is outside of the limits of international amateur spending pools. That means the Cubs can spend whatever they want and it only costs them money. The posting system works very much like the Japanese version where teams submit blind bids. The KBO club has the option of accepting or declining the highest bid, and if they accept it the Cubs would have the exclusive rights to negotiate with that player. Once Ryu Hyun-Jin accepts the contract whatever major league team wins his rights would have 6 years of control of that pitcher.
The other part of being age 25 is that the Cubs would control his peak seasons as a pitcher from 25-31. This would give the Cubs a guy that should at least be a back end of the rotation starter with the upside to be a 3 perhaps. Ryu Hyun-Jin allows the Cubs to fill another spot in the rotation with a long term option. Add in a healthy Arodys Vizcaino, big if, and now you have the makings of a pretty interesting and young rotation with Jeff Samardzija, Vizcaino, Ryu Hyun-Jin and Travis Wood.
The cost is going to be interesting to watch because there are not any readily available comparisons. Yu Darvish received a 51 million posting fee, but his stuff is a lot better than Ryu Hyun-Jin. Also there are not that many examples of a Korean pitcher coming over at the age of 25. Some have suggested that the posting fee might reach 25 million, and that seems as likely a guess as any. But the number could be pushed higher because there are not places for big league clubs to spend money without penalty elsewhere.
The Cubs have not had much luck with Korean baseball players despite being one of the first teams to dabble in the market. Jae Kyk-Ryu is most famous for killing an osprey and Hee Seop Choi for his head injury against the Yankees, but now seems like a good time to get back into the market with the opportunity to add a quality major league left hander for just cash. The link below is a playlist of youtube videos to give you an idea of what teams are going to be bidding on.