Right-hander Suk-Min Yoon, the 2011 MVP of the Korean Baseball Organization who starred in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, could play in the major leagues as soon as next season, his agent said Tuesday.
Scott Boras, whom Yoon and another WBC standout, left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, hired recently, said he would speak with Yoon in the near future about entering the posting system, in which major league teams bid to win exclusive negotiating rights with a player. If Yoon, 25, chooses against posting, he would be a free agent next season. Ryu, 24, can post before the 2013 season and would hit free agency in 2014.
While Korea has produced a handful of solid major league players – outfielder Shin-Soo Choo(notes) and former pitcher Chan Ho Park(notes) are among the dozen who were born and grew up there – all signed with teams as teenagers. Yoon would represent the first star to be posted, a significant step for a league that plays at a level equivalent to the lower minor leagues and attracts former major leaguers on perhaps their final professional stop. In 2009, the Lotte Giants received a posting fee of $101 for 37-year-old reliever Hyang-Nam Choi. He never made the major leagues.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Yoon dominated the KBO this season with a fastball that sits at 93 mph, a hard slider and what one scout deemed an above-average changeup. In 172 1/3 innings this season, he had 178 strikeouts and posted a 2.45 ERA for the Kia Tigers. He has pitched in relief as well.
Yoon could join a potential influx of players from Asia next season. Among those from Japan who could be posted: top-flight starter Yu Darvish, starter Wei-Ying Chen (a Taiwanese left-hander), outfielder Norichika Aoki and shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, on whom Oakland bid $19.1 million last season but was unable to sign, will be a free agent, as will left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada.
If Yoon arrives next season, it could be with the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Ryu, whose low-90s fastball has allowed him to dominate Korean baseball since a teenager. He struck out 17 in a game last season and won the gold-medal game of the 2008 Olympics. Following a dominant 2010 in which he had a 1.82 ERA in 192 2/3 innings, Ryu put up a 3.36 ERA over 126 innings this season.