Pitcher Yoon Suk-min leaves for U.S. in hopes of starting gig in MLB
INCHEON, Oct. 14 (Yonhap) -- Former MVP-winning pitcher Yoon Suk-min left for the United States on Monday in pursuit of his first Major League Baseball (MLB) contract, saying he would like to earn a starting job.
The 27-year-old right-hander for the Kia Tigers in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) said he plans to stay in the U.S. for about three weeks to discuss future options with his agent, Scott Boras, and also to go through his offseason training program.
With nine KBO seasons under his belt, Yoon, who has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen throughout his career, is eligible for free agency this winter.
The three-time KBO All-Star has a career mark of 73-59 with 44 saves and a 3.19 ERA in 303 appearances. In 1,129 innings, he has struck out 949 batters and walked 345.
He was sidelined at the start of the 2013 season with a shoulder injury, and was limited to 87 2/3 innings. He was 3-6 with seven saves in 30 appearances, 11 of them starts, with a 4.00 ERA, 76 strikeouts and 28 walks.
Speaking to reporters at Incheon International Airport, Yoon expressed cautious optimism that he will be able to draw interest from big league clubs.
"I am not in a position to pick and choose, and I'd be willing to join a team that wants to sign me," Yoon said. "I'd prefer to start than to pitch out of the bullpen. My stock may have dipped this year, but I think I've accomplished enough over the course of my career."
South Korean pitcher Yoon Suk-min speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport on Oct. 14, 2013 before departing for Los Angeles in pursuit of his first Major League Baseball contract. (Yonhap)
The highlight of his career came in 2011, when he was voted the MVP in the South Korean league. He captured the pitching Triple Crown as the league leader with 17 wins, a 2.45 ERA and 178 strikeouts.
Yoon is also known for holding Venezuela to two runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings as South Korea defeated the South American team of MLB All-Stars 10-2 in the semifinals of the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Yoon can reach up to 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour) with his fastball, and also throws a hard slider at about 140 kilometers. He lost some bite on his fastball this year with shoulder problems.
He completed his seventh KBO season after winning the MVP, and was thus eligible to be posted for a silent auction among interested MLB clubs with the Tigers' consent. The Tigers, however, didn't grant Yoon his wish to test the big league market on the grounds that they needed Yoon to compete for a title here.
Yoon also needed the team's approval to pursue a major league contract after the 2012 season and the Tigers also declined.
Now that he's played nine years, Yoon can be a full-fledged free agent and doesn't require a green light from the Tigers to sign with an overseas club.
During his stay, Yoon will watch fellow South Korean Ryu Hyun-jin pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers at home against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, local time, in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS).
Ryu signed with the Dodgers last December via posting. His KBO club, the Hanwha Eagles, agreed to post the left-hander after he'd completed seven seasons here. The Dodgers submitted the highest bid for the right to negotiate with the pitcher, and inked him to a six-year, US$36 million contract. He, too, is represented by Boras.
Ryu, a former KBO MVP and Rookie of the Year, enjoyed a successful rookie season, going 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA in 30 starts. He struck out 154 batters and walked 49 in 192 innings. Among the NL rookies, Ryu ranked first in innings pitched and in quality starts, and second in ERA.
Yoon said his one-time KBO rival is already far ahead of him.
"Hyun-jin is doing so well, and there really is no comparison (between him and myself)," Yoon said. "Once I get to watch him in person, I will want to pitch in the majors even more."
Yoon is not yet an official free agent because he hasn't yet declared his right, and he may very well re-sign with the Tigers. He said, however, that the thought of never again playing for the team that drafted him had already entered his mind.
"I feel bad for the fans because I haven't given them much to cheer about," Yoon said. "I'd also like to thank them for their support."