Tag Archives: baseball

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Chan Ho Park Receives a Pioneers of Baseball Award

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Chan Ho Park received a Pioneers of Baseball Award on Saturday, in honor of his accomplishments as the first Korean to play in Major League Baseball.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig presented the award to both Park and Hideo Nomo, the first Japanese-born player to sign with the MLB, at the annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation dinner held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel.

According to Arirang, Park delivered a powerful speech as he recalled the hardships he faced as a pioneering Korean player and thanked the scouts for giving him a chance to play in the Majors.

Park signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994 and went on to play for the Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates until 2010. Park is the all-time winningest Asian pitcher in the history of the MLB with 124 wins, besting Nomo’s record by one victory.

Park and Nomo were teammates when they played for the Dodgers from 1995 to 1998.

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Related Stories:

Chan Ho Park pays visit to L.A. Exhibit that celebrates Diversity in Baseball

March 2013 cover story on Chan Ho Park

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Pirates Sign Shortstop Kang on a 4-Year, $16 Million Deal

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

South Korea’s star shortstop Jung Ho Kang became the first position player to make the leap from the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) to the major leagues after the Pittsburgh Pirates announced Friday that they signed the 27-year-old to a four-year deal worth about $16 million.

Kang passed the required physical on Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., and signed a deal that guarantees at least $11 million over the next four years. Last December, the Pirates paid a $5 million posting fee to Kang’s former KBO club, the Nexen Heroes, to earn the exclusive rights to negotiate with him. The deal also includes a team option for a fifth year at $5.5 million.

“I’m very excited and humbled by this opportunity,” Kang said in a press release. “I look forward to joining a great group of teammates, and I am ready to work hard to help the Pirates win any way that I can.”

Kang’s deal, worth up to $21.5 million, is relatively a significant investment by the Pirates considering that they had the third lowest payroll ($71 million) last season among the 30 teams in the big leagues. His annual salary over the next four guaranteed years (an average of  $2.75 million) makes him one of the top 10 paid players on the Pirates’ current roster.

“We like the player a lot,” Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington said, according to MLB.com. “We look forward to confirming our belief in him as a shortstop. We’re excited by the opportunity to have the first Korean hitter make this transition.”

Despite their aggressive investment, the Pirates remain cautious about making Kang an immediate starter at shortstop. Jordy Mercer, the current starting shortstop for the Pirates, was the only shortstop in the big leagues last season who made more than 300 throws to first base while drawing no errors.

The MLB Network also named Mercer as the sixth best shortstop in the big leagues for his standout defense.

Huntington revealed that Kang will begin spring training in March as a “complementary player” for the Pirates, hinting that Pirates manager Clint Hurdle may use the South Korean as a utility player.

Kang’s defense remains suspect, especially at the major league level, which conceivably puts him behind Mercer in Pittsburgh’s shortstop pecking order.

But the Pirates are hoping that Kang’s contribution off the bench could still give them a substantial boost, perhaps in the similar way that the Los Angeles Dodgers fed off of Justin Turner’s production last season as a bench player. Turner, averaging only 2.6 at-bats per game last season, hit an impressive .340 while playing all four infield positions on defense as the Dodgers won the National League West.

For nine seasons in the KBO, Kang played multiple infield positions, including third baseman and second baseman. Although Pittsburgh boasts a formidable lineup across the infield with third baseman Josh Harrison and Neil Walker, Kang would likely be its first option off the bench given how aggressive its front office pursued his services since late last year.

Huntington further added that Kang will go through a “significant transitional period,” despite confirming that there is no intention to send him to the minor leagues.

“[Kang] will give [Hurdle] a lot of [in-game] flexibility,” Huntington said. “He’s a nice all-around player who will have a successful career as a regular [in the major leagues]. We just don’t know when that will happen.”

Where Kang holds the edge on his competitors, notably Mercer, is his potential on offense. He is a power hitter, a rarity for most shortstops, who averaged .298 batting average and .504 slugging percentage in the last nine seasons in Korea. Last season, he shattered his career-highs in most offensive categories with 40 home runs on a .356 batting average, .459 on-base percentage and .739 slugging percentage.

When asked about competing for the starting shortstop job in Pittsburgh before he left Korea on Tuesday, Kang said: “If I can get an opportunity to play consistently, I think I can play better.”

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Featured photo courtesy of Starin

koream 2014 covers

KoreAm Journal’s 2014 Covers

As 2014 draws to a close, KoreAm takes a look back at this past year’s cover stories.

January 2014

tiger jk koream cover jan 2014Read Tiger JK’s cover story here.

February 2014

arden cho koream feb 2014 coverRead Arden Cho’s cover story here.

March 2014

run river north koream mar 2014 coverRead Run River North’s cover story here

April 2014

ej ok koream april 2014 coverRead E.J. Ok’s cover story here.

May 2014

sandra oh koream may 2014 coverRead Sandra Oh’s cover story here

June 2014

sung kang koream june 2014 coverRead Sung Kang’s cover story here.

July 2014

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Read the cover story “Asian Americans: The New White?” here.

August/September 2014

shin-soo choo koream aug 2014 coverRead Shin-soo Choo’s cover story here.

October/November 2014

john cho koream oct nov 2014 coverRead John Cho’s cover story here

December 2014/January 2015

randall park dec jan 2015 coverRead Randall Park’s cover story here

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To subscribe to KoreAm, click here. To purchase a copy of a past magazine issue, please contact our office via phone at (310) 769-4913 x 221 or via email at admin@iamkoream.com.

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Fully Recovered, Shin-Soo Choo is Ready to Rebound in 2015

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

After signing a lucrative $130 million contract, nothing went right for Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo in 2014. Playing through injuries, Choo hit a career-low .242 in 123 games before an elbow surgery finally ruled him out for the season in late August.

Evidently, the 32-year-old fell far below expectations and was soon labeled a “bust” by fans and media alike.

“I know what kind of things are being said about me,” Choo told Naver Sports. “It’s something I’ll have to accept. I was hurt all season, but my team needed me. So I decided that playing through pain was the best I could do for my team. The only thing that hurts me is when I hear people denounce my entire career because of one bad season I had.”

Going into this past season, Choo was widely considered one of the best outfielders in the major leagues. Between 2006 and 2013, his batting average fell below .280 just once in eight seasons, during which he eclipsed the .300 mark three times. He even turned down a $140 million offer from the New York Yankees to sign with the Rangers as he felt that he would have a better shot at winning.

However, after reaching the World Series twice in the last four years, the Rangers also suffered their worst season in recent memory and finished with the worst record in the American League at 67-95. And Choo went down with them.

Choo, who recently started practicing in Dallas after recovering from the elbow surgery, said he has never started to prepare for a season earlier than this time around. He vowed to make the upcoming 2015 season a turning point of his career and return as one of the most dynamic outfielders in baseball.

“I’m sure the efforts I’m making now will pay off,” Choo said. “I no longer want to take any more criticism. At the end of the day, I’m sure all the struggles I’ve been through this season will be remembered as times I feel thankful for after I overcome. I’ll regain the faith from fans who became frustrated from watching me struggle this year.”

Read KoreAm’s August/September cover story on Shin-Soo Choo here.

kim kwang-hyun

Kim Kwang-hyun Rejects Offer from San Diego Padres

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

There goes another one. South Korea’s star left-hander Kim Kwang-hyun will not be pitching in the major leagues next year after he failed to reach an agreement with the San Diego Padres before Thursday’s deadline, according to multiple reports.

Kim’s nixed deal with the Padres comes only two weeks after another South Korean pitcher, Yang Hyeon-jong, fell short of signing with a major league ballclub after his team, the Kia Tigers, rejected the bid that would’ve allowed him to negotiate a move.

The Padres began a 30-day negotiation period to sign Kim after they made a winning bid of $2 million in a private auction for his services. The SK Wyverns, Kim’s South Korean team, accepted the offer. Represented by his agent Melvin Roman, Kim was even invited to San Diego by the Padres to tour Petco Park, the club’s home stadium last week, but the two sides could not come to terms during the contract negotiation before Thursday’s deadline.

“It’s regretful that I couldn’t agree on a contract with San Diego, but I thank my team, the SK Wyverns, for allowing me to negotiate with a major league franchise,” Kim told the Korean media. “I also thank the San Diego Padres organization for giving me the opportunity and my agent. I will now return to SK, where I’ll try my best once again. I will try to reach the big leagues once I feel more prepared.”

Had Kim signed with the Padres, he would have been South Korea’s third current player to play in the major leagues alongside Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.

Kim, 26, will be eligible to sign with a major league team after the 2015 season through the same private auction process. He will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season.

Photo courtesy of Hanstar.net

Yang Hyeon-jong

Kia Tigers Nix Pitcher’s Move to Major Leagues

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

South Korean pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong will not be playing in the major leagues after all as his team has rejected the winning bid for the player that was made by an unnamed American ball club.

Yang’s current team, the Kia Tigers, made the announcement on Tuesday. While the exact amount of the winning bid for the 26-year-old and the team that submitted it haven’t been officially revealed, varying reports have mentioned that the offer was made by either the Minnesota Twins or the Texas Rangers and that the total sum was believed to be around $1.5 million.

Although Yang adamantly expressed his interest in pitching abroad next season, the Tigers said they rejected the bid as the amount was far below what they had expected for their franchise player. Two years ago, the Dodgers made a bid of $25.7 million to the Hanwha Eagles for Hyun-Jin Ryu. But Yang, after posting a 62-42 record with a 4.33 in eight seasons with the Tigers, is widely rated below Ryu, who joined the Dodgers in 2012 after seven seasons with the Eagles, in which he posted a 98-52 record with a 2.80 ERA.

The left-hander could still seek a move to Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball this winter with a permission from the Tigers. However, he will not be eligible to play for a team in the U.S. until he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season.

Unlike the Tigers, another Korean baseball team, the SK Wyverns, recently accepted a posting fee of $2 million from the San Diego Padres for its star pitcher Kim Kwang-hyeon. The negotiation between the Padres and Kim is currently underway.

Trying to identify quality Korean pitchers in their domestic league has been a complicated task this year as no player posted an ERA below 3.00 for the 2014 season. Kim, whose expected to sign with the Padres soon, is the only Korean-born pitcher in the Korea Baseball Organization whose ERA this past season was under 4.00. Five other pitchers besides Kim who accomplished the feat were international players.

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SK Wyverns Accept $2 Million Bid for Kim Kwang-hyun

by STEVE HAN

South Korea’s star pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun is on the brink of becoming his country’s next major leaguer after his current team, the SK Wyverns, accepted a $2 million offer from the San Diego Padres for the rights to negotiate with the left-hander on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, the Padres had won the silent auction among ballclubs in the major leagues for Kim. The 26-year-old is eligible for conditional free agency this winter, similar to the case of Hyun-Jin Ryu, who joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 through a $25.7 million posting fee, which was paid to his then team, the Hanwha Eagles. It has been widely reported that the Wyverns were incredibly disappointed that the bid for Kim, who was once considered Ryu’s biggest rival in Korea, was significantly lower. However, the team has chosen to accept the offer to “support Kim’s dreams,” said Wyverns general manager Min Kyeong-sam.

“I’m very grateful that the Wyvern’s front office and the owner accepted the Padres offer,” said Kim, who has won three Korean Series titles with an 83-49 record and a 3.30 ERA over his eight-year career in the Korea Baseball Organization. “Now I want to commit myself to an adventurous challenge by starting from the bottom and working my way up in the major leagues.”

The Padres now have a 30-day window to agree on a contract with Kim. If no deal is reached, the $2 million fee will not be paid and the Wyverns will retain Kim until after the 2016 season. Kim, whose current annual salary is at around $250,000, is represented by Melvin Roman of Puerto Rico-based MDR Sports Management, the agent of St. Louis Cardinals star catcher Yadier Molina and Padres’ catcher Rene Rivera, who could potentially be Kim’s battery mate in San Diego next year.

“Obviously, we would have liked it more if the posting fee was higher,” said Min, the Wyverns general manager. “But our mission was to help our player to pursue his dream. I had lunch with [Kim] Kwang-hyun this afternoon and realized how much he wanted to go to the major leagues. So our biggest concern wasn’t whether or not we felt like the Padres’ offer was enough. It was more about whether or not Kwang-hyun was at peace with the offer that was made.”

Kim has mentioned repeatedly that he would settle for any role, including pitching as a middle reliever, to achieve his lifelong dream of playing in the major leagues, but added that he prefers to start. The Padres currently boasts a solid pitching staff both in their starting rotation and the bullpen as it was second in overall team ERA (3.27) and first in ERA among relievers (2.73) in the National League.

“I’m not sure what kind of role the Padres have in mind for me,” Kim said. “What’s important is that I want to eventually be on the mound as a starter. I know that I’ll have to earn that role with my skills. Next year, I’m going to show at Petco Park in San Diego that all the doubts on me now aren’t much to worry about. That will be my No. 1 responsibility.”

The Padres’ interest in Kim are likely due to two main reasons. Even though their current pitching staff was one of the best in the major leagues last season, the Padres are in desperate need of adding more firepower to their offensive bats, which ranked dead last in team batting average last year in the major leagues. Bringing in a quality offensive player via a trade may require the Padres to give up at least one of their established pitchers, in which case, Kim could step in as a replacement for the departing player.

Also, Padres’ second-year general manager A.J. Preller has been actively expanding the team’s focus on utilizing the international market. One of Preller’s priorities is to sign international players, especially after the success of Cuban pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne last year. Aside from Kim, the Padres are also in the running to sign Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas this winter.

Featured image courtesy of Wstar news

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers

Hank Conger Traded to Houston Astros

by JAMES S. KIM

Catcher Hank Conger will be hanging up the halo and heading across the division to the Houston Astros. In return, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will receive the Astro’s No. 13 prospect, pitcher Nick Tropeano, and catcher Carlos Perez, the teams announced Wednesday.

The Huntington Beach native and fan favorite spent his entire major league career with the Angels, but he can look forward to working with a solid pitching staff in Houston. Astros manager A.J. Hinch, a former catcher, said his skills will definitely benefit the team.

“The best catchers really take it personally, interacting and working with pitchers on the staff,” Hinch told MLB.com. “What they do behind the plate is always going to impact the game at a higher level than the bat. … Talking to Conger, he has that mentality, that selfless side of being a catcher that can really elevate what a pitching staff brings to the table.”

Conger, who was taken in the first round (25th overall) in the 2006 Draft, was touted as a switch-hitting offensive catcher as he came up through the Angels’ minor league system. His bat, however, didn’t make too much of an impact when he was promoted in 2010, and he was sent down to the minors in 2011 to work on his lack of defense.

In 2012, the Angels recalled Conger, but he would only play in seven games due to a logjam of catchers. He came back in 2013 with a solid season, batting .249 and posting his best numbers offensively, but his improvements on defense was what earned him the blessing of Manager Mike Scioscia, a former catcher.

During the 2013-14 seasons, Conger backed up and eventually formed an effective platoon with fellow backstop Chris Ianetta. He developed a reputation in the baseball sabermetric community as one of the best pitch-framers in the league: he ranked 6th and 3rd, in respective seasons, in framing runs saved per 7000 pitches.

Ultimately, it was his lack of offensive numbers that allowed Chris Iannetta to edge out Conger in starts in the second half of the 2014 season. Iannetta went on to start all three games of the American League Division Series the Angels played this past postseason.

Here are some notable moments from Conger’s tenure with the Angels.

Dancing in celebration of the Angels clinching the playoffs

Hank Conger won the Angels dance contest last night.

A video posted by Arash Markazi (@arashmarkazi) on

Conger hits a clutch 9th-inning home run

The most unorthodox bunt hit ever

Image via USA Today