An inherent problem with being an armchair MLB general manager is that the sport doesn’t have a hard salary cap, and thus the smart move if your sole motivation is winning is to just sign everybody. If you are a fan and thus have no connection with the actual front office, you don’t have to decide among Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg—you would want to sign all three. But in reality, front offices have limitations on their power. Professional sports owners generally don’t spend to their full capacity (I don’t ask them to go bankrupt, but considering that the asset of a sports team inevitably increases in value, I don’t care if they make a profit in the short term), but front offices are beholden to those restrictions. I don’t blame John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch for this. It just comes with the territory.
My knowledge of Kwang-Hyun Kim (note: several sources, including Baseball Reference, list his name as Gwang-hyun Kim, and I am woefully ignorant on Korean naming conventions—my apologies for any mistakes made) is, to put it generously, limited. I can see his statistics with the Korean Baseball Organization’s SK Wyverns, which are generally pretty good—last season, he had a 2.51 ERA in 190 1/3 innings and, in contrast to most of his earlier seasons in KBO, he had a pretty solid walk rate (1.8 BB/9) to go along with his solid if not otherworldly strikeout rate of 8.5 K/9. The abridged career synopsis of Kim is that he was a hotshot youngster in the late aughts, struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness for much of the early 2010s, missed the 2017 season due to Tommy John Surgery, and was awesome in his age 29 and age 30 seasons. And now, per Derrick Goold, the St. Louis Cardinals have signed him. That’s neat.
Terms have yet to be announced, but it is likely that Kim will go for a considerably lower cost than what the likes of Cole, Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Wheeler have already garnered. FanGraphs, a source I trust far more than my own minimal knowledge of the situation, listed Kim as the 41st best free agent this off-season, sandwiched between Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Lyles as far as pitchers go. The lefty is perceived as a potential swingman who can pitch in the rotation or in relief, and while I’m not as excited about him as I would’ve been about Gerrit Cole, who could credibly be argued to be the world’s best pitcher, I’m admittedly more excited about him than I would be about the lesser-tier free agents from American baseball that will command comparable salaries.
My first instinct is to sign off on the move; after all, the last two times the Cardinals dipped into the East Asian pitching market, they got relative bargains in Seung-hwan Oh and Miles Mikolas. But I don’t want to call it a complete win right away. The Cardinals still have to justify the bargain.
The Cardinals will surely still, once terms are announced, be entering 2020 with a lower payroll than 2019. Kim is a fine replacement for Michael Wacha, a starting pitcher that the Cardinals very clearly had no interest in retaining. Baseball fans, not only but certainly not exempting Cardinals fans, have a tendency to dismiss moves smaller than their team signing Anthony Rendon, but those moves matter too. These moves matter. But this is still a team that had offensive struggles throughout 2019 that is losing one of its most effective hitters in Marcell Ozuna, to this point to be replaced with nothing.
I have mixed feelings on hypothetically re-signing Marcell Ozuna, but that isn’t because I don’t think Marcell Ozuna is better than the guy who will be replacing him—it is because I think there are probably better ways to spend the money that the Cardinals would be spending on his salary. But to this point, the Cardinals haven’t reallocated that money. And truthfully, I’m not sure who to blame for that. Yelling at John Mozeliak, an easy target for the extremely scientific reason of “he looks like a giant nerd”, is the fashionable route, but usually, this falls on the owner. But regardless, the Cardinals haven’t done enough for 2020 for me to feel comfortable in this team to repeat as NL Central champs, much less credibly contend for the World Series.
And it’s December 17. There is time. I like this move, but this move is not, by any means, enough. Here’s to my next post-transaction post announcing that this team is ready for 2020.