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Going Posted: The Angels’ 2020 NPB and KBO Options

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The Angels need more than Gerrit Cole, and once again could find some answers across the Pacific.

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We all know the Angels need pitching, pitching, and more pitching if they’re going to have a chance next year. Gerrit Cole is at the top of everyone’s list for the Angels, including mine, but they’re going to need still more than that to couple with Shohei Ohtani.

Names like Wheeler, Gibson, Hamels, and more have been discussed when it comes to established veterans, but what about the posting market? As we’ve come to expect in recent years, there are some options from our friends in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) that are worth considering. Two of them are probably back-end starters, which is just the type of thing we’ll need to round out our hopefully Cole-Ohtani-Heaney-some-other-guys rotation next year. Scroll on down to find out more.

Kwang-hyunh Kim ( SK Wyverns)

Kwang-hyunh Kim is a lefty that leads this year’s class of MLB posting imports from across the Pacific. He’s an established star in the Korea Baseball Organization, debuting at age 18 in 2007 and spending his entire career to this point with the SK Wyverns. He’ll be coming over in his age-32 season and is the owner of a 3.27 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 1,673.2 innings pitched up to this point. His 2019 line was even better than that, seeing him go 190.1 innings with a 2.51 ERA, 8.5 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9.

Kim features a low-mid 90s fastball, coupled with a curveball and changeup in the 70s, and a particularly nasty slider as his out pitch. He’s been the KBO MVP once and won four KBO titles with the Wyverns, most recently in 2018 so you can say he’s used to the big stage. The best highlight video I could find of his is from a 10-strikeout game several years ago and you can check it out here.

While he’s near the end of what we’d consider prime years for an MLB player, you should take into account that the KBO is typically a hitter-friendly environment. Add in that the level of play is somewhere in the AAA-AA range and you can start to see a reasonable expectation for a #4 or #5 starter emerge. And if you’re worried about mileage on his arm, don’t be. He already had Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2017 but came back to post the numbers I just described.

Fangraphs listed Kim as #41 on their top-50 list of 2020 free agents and estimates he’ll get a 2-year deal for around $5-7million AAV. The KBO-MLB posting system works just like the NPB one we got Ohtani under, so the signing team will need to pay the Wyverns a fee based on the final contract value. Oddly enough, Kim was posted once before under the old system but negotiations with the Padres fell apart and he wound up staying in Korea. Kim was posted on November 21st and has 30 days to reach a deal with an MLB club.

For the Angels, Kim is definitely worth a look if they break the bank to get Cole and maybe another mid-tier MLB veteran. He seems like he could be had for a short contract and relatively small price to fill out the back of an upgraded rotation.

Shun Yamaguchi (Yomiuri Giants)

Right-hander Shun Yamaguchi is the next one up in this year’s import pitching class and the only one from NPB in Japan. He also debuted at 18 as a starter and eventually made his way to the bullpen where he served as closer for the Yokohama DeNa BayStars for a few years. Since 2014, he’s made the transition back to the rotation and changed teams to the Yomiuri Giants, which if you know anything about Japanese baseball are like the New York Yankees over there, complete with the East Coast bias and everything (J/K, I don’t actually know this).

Yamaguchi will be coming over in his age-33 season, and owns a 3.35 ERA with an 8.8 K/9 and 3.4 BB9 in 1080.1 innings. Included in that are 112 saves, 90 starts, and 16 complete games. In 2019 he made 26 starts for the Giants, logging 170 IP, with a 2.91 ERA, 10.0 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9. Not bad for a guy who’s had to reinvent himself a couple times.

You can read a full profile on Yamguchi here, but the gist of it is a fastball that averages about 90 MPH with a splitter, slider, and curve rounding out the mix. His splitter is his out pitch and led NPB last year in terms of effectiveness. Basically, he’s not going to blow anyone away but he knows how to pitch. He had one personal incident off the field in 2017 that involved alcohol, a security guard, and a hospital visit but seems to have paid his dues and put that behind him.

Yamguchi was posted on November 18th. It’s also particularly noteworthy that he’s the first player ever posted by the Yomiuri Giants who were among the last NPB holdouts against the practice of posting their players for MLB clubs.

Fangraphs didn’t rate him in their top 50 but his numbers look primed for a #5 spot and I’d expect him to get a similar deal to what was predicted for Kim above, maybe even a little cheaper. When you consider the Angels will need six people who can start due to Ohtani, someone like Yamaguchi makes sense to look at.

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (BayStars)

You’ve probably heard Yoshitomo Tsutsugo’s name more than any other posted player so far this winter. That’s for good reason. He’s obliterated baseballs in impressive numbers while playing the corner outfield spots, first base, and a little third for the Yokohama DeNa BayStars.

Tsutsugo’s been an anticipated NPB import for a few years and probably rose to the top of that list post-Ohtani so I won’t spend too much more time on him. Suffice to say a guy who’s going to be 28 next year and owns a .910 OPS and 205 homers (139 over the last four years) over 4,000 plate appearances from the left side is worth a look for most teams. Fangraphs rated him #42 right behind Kim in the same article and predicted a 2-4-year deal at $8-10.5 million in average annual value. He’s got until December 19th to get a deal in place with an MLB team.

Considering his size and likely relegation to the RF/1B/DH spots I wouldn’t put him at the top of the Angels’ list, but if we find ourselves still needing some offense and fill-in pitching he could be a good way to answer the former and free up some trade chips for the latter. Which, by the way...

Kenta Maeda (LA Dodgers)

Ok, I cheated. Kenta Maeda doesn’t qualify as an import anymore and we’re all pretty familiar with him thanks to his arrival with our annoying cousins up The 5 a few years ago. Word on the Hot Stove is that Maeda’s dissatisfied with his hybrid role for the Dodgers in which they’ve moved him to the bullpen in the latter half of the past few seasons. As the MLBTR link notes, though, it’s hard to blame the Dodgers given their bevy of rotation options and Maeda’s splits out of the ‘pen. Since 2017 he’s got a 3.19 ERA and 3.13 FIP as a reliever vs. 4.12 and 3.84 marks in the same categories as a starter. He’s also fared markedly worse against lefties lately. Still, he seems to look good every time I see him on TV and is cost-controlled for the remaining four years on his deal. More importantly he still has the war face I wrote about back when he was posted, which has to be worth something.

The Angels could trade for him depending on who else we get off the free agent market, and would only owe $3 million per year plus the $1 million trade bonus and whatever $250K IP bonuses he might hit in his age 32-36 seasons. Assuming we get some bigger pieces first, Maeda wouldn’t be a bad way to round out the offseason.

Honorable Mention: Before closing this out, I should give a shout out to Josh Lindblom. Although he’d be a re-import, not a fresh one, he’s coming off two excellent seasons in KBO built on marked improvements in his spin rates and pitch selection. He’s won two straight KBO Cy Young equivalents and could be the next in a growing list of MLB castaways to reinvent themselves in the Asian leagues, then return to a modest salary and a productive career in MLB. MLBTR has more on him if you want to read.

Bottom Line

The bottom line here is there’s help for the Angels on the posting front this year. Not ace help, but still help. Given the club’s 100% success rate with this method of acquiring talent, we’d be silly not to kick the tires again once we’ve made some other additions. I was hoping to find some hidden catching help this way too, but it appears Kenji Johjima was an ephemeral spirit that only manifests itself once per generation. There are some more players coming from Japan too, but I don’t think they really fit into our picture for 2020.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Billy, if you’re reading this, just like, get some pitchers, man. And don’t forget to look West too.