KBO clubs snatch up new foreign players following rule change
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 16 (Yonhap) -- A recent rule change in the top domestic baseball league set off a flurry of transactions over the past week, as teams sought to bolster their rosters for the new season.
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) last week decided to add an extra roster spot for foreign players starting in 2014. Previously, teams could sign only two such players, with exception to the league's expansion team NC Dinos, who joined the KBO in 2013 and were granted three foreign players for their first two seasons.
Under the new rule, teams may now carry three foreign players on their active rosters, with two of them able to take the field at the same time. The Dinos and another expansion club, the KT Wiz, will be granted four spots for foreigners.
The Dinos will enjoy that benefit in 2014, their second KBO season. The Wiz will have that advantage in 2015 and 2016, their first two seasons in the league.
There is one twist to the rule: the eight clubs other than the Dinos and the Wiz will not be permitted to sign three pitchers or three position players to fill their quotas. It must be either two pitchers and a position player or two position players and a pitcher.
The Dinos and the Wiz have three options: three pitchers and one position player; two pitchers and two position players; and three position players and one pitcher.
Before the ink dried on the revised edition of the KBO rule book, clubs began to announce their signings of new foreign players, ranging from one-time Major League Baseball (MLB) players to career U.S. minor leaguers.
In some cases, the players' transactions were first reported by foreign media, and beat writers of the players' former minor league teams took to Twitter to share news of their new ventures.
Through Sunday, three clubs had filled their quotas. The Nexen Heroes long re-signed their two pitchers from the past two seasons, Brandon Knight and Andy Van Hekken, and added infielder Vinny Rottino to the mix.
The Lotte Giants also brought back their two starters, Chris Oxspring and Shane Youman, and then acquired infielder Luis Jimenez.
The Dinos filled up their quota with three pitchers and one position player. Charlie Shirek and Eric Hacker are returning after successful first years with the club. They will be joined by a pair of former Toronto Blue Jays: outfielder Eric Thames and pitcher Thad Weber.
Rottino, 33, has three career MLB homers in 97 at-bats for four different clubs. He spent 10 seasons in the minors and played the 2013 season with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), with four homers and a .206 average in 37 games.
Jimenez, 31, also brings an extensive minor league experience to the table. He made but 18 plate appearances in the big leagues with the Seattle Mariners in 2012, while playing 11 years in the U.S. minors, and another in Japan. The Giants list the hulking Venezuelan as 192 centimeters and 127 kilograms.
In 2013, Jimenez hit 18 homers and drove in 73 runs for the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Thames, 27, enjoyed a promising 2011 season with Toronto, hitting 12 home runs in 95 games, but hasn't been able to duplicate that production since. He split 2013 with three minor league teams, batting .283 with 10 homers and 49 RBIs in 98 games combined.
Weber, 29, made 10 appearances for three MLB clubs the past two years, most recently with the Blue Jays this summer. With the Bisons, Weber was 8-5 with a 2.61 ERA in 18 appearances, 15 of them starts.
Other new faces that joined the KBO after the rule change are: right-hander J.D. Martin for the Samsung Lions; right-hander Ross Wolf for the SK Wyverns; and right-hander Jairo Asencio for the Kia Tigers.
Martin, 30, has 24 big game appearances under his belt with the Washington Nationals with a 6-9 record and a 4.32 ERA. In 2013, Martin was 16-4 with a 2.75 ERA in 27 starts for the Durham Bulls, the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Wolf, 31, pitched in 22 games for the Texas Rangers in 2013 with a 1-3 record and a 4.15 ERA. He also made seven appearances for the Rangers' Triple-A club, the Round Rock Express, going 1-1 with a 1.77 ERA.
Finally, Asencio, 30, appeared in four games for the Baltimore Orioles in 2013. He posted a 7.71 ERA with no win-loss record. With the O's Triple-A team, the Norfolk Tides, the Dominican went 5-0 with a 2.66 ERA in 47 games.
The Lions, the three-time KBO defending champs, are trying to bring back Dutch right-hander Rick van den Hurk for his second season, while looking to sign a position player from overseas to fill up their quota.
The Doosan Bears, runners-up to the Lions in the Korean Series, already re-signed right-hander Dustin Nippert and acquired former MLB slugger Jorge Cantu. They parted ways with right-hander Derek Hankins after half a season and are looking for a new foreign pitcher.
The LG Twins will bring back right-hander Radhames Liz for his fourth straight season here. Left-hander Ben Jukich is unlikely to return with the Twins after a trying 2013 season, and his departure would leave two foreign player spots open for the club.
The Wyverns signed Wolf to replace left-hander Chris Seddon, who is reportedly prepared to sign with a Japanese club after a successful season here, and re-signed southpaw Jo-Jo Reyes. They remain in search of one position player from overseas.
The Tigers are seeking another pitcher and one position player from outside South Korea. The Hanwha Eagles, the KBO's doormat the past several years, parted ways with both of their foreign pitchers from 2013, Dana Eveland and Denny Bautista. They are said to be nearing a deal with a former MLB outfielder Felix Pie.
The KBO, which had its first season in 1982, began allowing foreign players in 1998. In 2001 and 2002, teams were allowed to sign three foreign players but play only two of them at the same time. With the exception of those two seasons, KBO teams had only been able to sign two players from overseas.