Masahiro Tanaka may not be the only international pitcher targeted by the New York Yankees this offseason.
According to George A. King III of the New York Post, the Yankees have scouted 31-year-old reliever Seung-Hwan Oh of the Korean Baseball Organization.
News of the Yankees’ interest in Oh doesn’t come as a surprise. The team was expected to be in the market for several relievers this winter as it tries to realign the bullpen in the wake of Mariano Rivera’s retirement.
Oh, a seven-time All Star, has served as the top closer in the KBO over the past nine seasons while playing for the Samsung Lions. During that span, the right-hander has posted a stellar 1.69 ERA and 277 saves while logging 510 1/3 innings.
|Seung-Hwan Oh KBO Career Statistics (2005-2013)|
His numbers probably would be even more impressive had it not been for a pair of injury-plagued seasons in 2009 and 2010. Between the two years, Oh registered a 4.73 ERA in 45 2/3 innings and appeared in only 51 games.
This past season, the 31-year-old saved 28 games and registered a 1.74 ERA and 54/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51 2/3 innings (48 games).
Due to his age and the fact that he’s spent his entire career as reliever—as well as the fact that he’s not Mashahiro Tankaka—there’s isn’t a ton of scouting information available about Oh.
However, Clint Hulsey of I R Fast has seen enough to believe that Oh will be a successful reliever in the major leagues:
Physically, he isn't real tall, but has a pretty broad frame, looking somewhat big, but not hefty or overweight. In fact, he is listed at just 5.84 feet (about 5'10) and just over 200 pounds. Despite this, he seems to get good plane on the ball, with some downward movement on some of his fastball.
According to Naver, Oh features a 90-97 MPH fastball, with a slider he throws 80-89 MPH, and an occasional curve at 71-79 MPH. When high, the fastball is pretty straight (which seems to be his preferred location) and the general average I saw was about 93 MPH. It seems to me that he throws a separate fastball and sinker, and features one or the other depending on the outing (at least it seemed this way based on video). I am not real impressed with his slider movement wise, as it does get glove side, but doesn't break sharply. It bites more downwardly than sideways, and does a good job of changing eye levels at least. His curveball doesn't have great vertical depth, and is a little slow, but he gets it to move glove side.
The Naver scouting reports also say he throws an occasional two-seam fastball to lefties, which sounds like a cutter to me. I never saw one in the videos I watched of Oh. They question his ability to use a breaking ball other than a slider, which may lead to platoon splits in the MLB (so far this year in the KBO, he has struck out 11 lefties and walked 0, for whatever small sample size KBO splits are worth). Even though the scouting report doesn't mention it, I also saw him throw some arm-side changes at 86-87 MPH. It isn't a big part of his repertoire and he doesn't seem to have much control over it.
Hulsey goes on to address a few mechanical concerns in Oh’s delivery but reaches the conclusion—in accordance with the right-hander’s career walk rates in the KBO—they shouldn’t inhibit his command in the major leagues.
So, what will it cost the Yankees to land Oh?
Well, for starters, there’s a lack of recent precedence for the posting and signing of Asian relievers. As Mike Axisa of River Ave. Blues notes, the only two relievers to have successfully gone through the posting process were Akinori Otsuka in 2003 and Shinji Mori in 2005. Both players required six-figure bids to secure negotiating rights.
Given the evolution of the posting process over the last decade, it’s a safe assumption that it will cost the Yankees several million to negotiate with the right-hander.
Coming off a highly successful age-31 season in Japan’s premier league (Nippon Professional Baseball), Fujikawa signed a two-year, $9.5 million contract with the Cubs that included a team/vesting option for the 2015 season.
With Oh's previous success in the KBO over the last nine seasons, he seems poised to command a similar multiyear deal. While he does have a somewhat concerning medical history after suffering a shoulder injury in 2010 as well as elbow issues in college and during the 2010 season, the right-hander has proven to be both healthy and effective over the last three years.
Though the Yankees’ pursuit of Tanaka will likely take center stage this winter, their potential signing of Oh could turn out to be one of the better under-the-radar acquisitions of the offseason.