The Royals are expected to have a very slow off-season with an ownership transition and a rebuild that rests on developing young players internally. But back-to-back 100-loss seasons may motivate General Manager Dayton Moore to look to improve the team on the field. Moore has always emphasized pitching, and after another poor season from the pitching staff, the Royals could look to add some arms.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Royals are one of number of teams with early interest in 31-year old Korean left-handed pitcher Kwang-Hyun Kim. Kim has pitched for the SK Wyverns in the Korean Baseball Organization since he was 18, winning 136 games with a 3.27 ERA. The Wynverns are expected to post him and he has made it clear he would like to have his shot at Major League Baseball. Rosenthal reports the Mets, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Cubs as other teams with an early interest.
Under a new agreement with Japanese and Korean teams, a team no longer has exclusive negotiating rights if they bid the highest posting fee. Instead, all 30 MLB teams can negotiate with Kim, and his posting fee to the Wyverns will depend on the size of his guaranteed contract. Kim has tried to come Major League Baseball before, with the Wyverns posting him in 2014, but the winning posting fee was only $2 million under the old system, and Kim was not able to come to terms with the Padres, the tema that won his rights.
Kim won 17 games with a 2.51 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 190 1/3 innings for the Wyverns this past season. He has a bit of a Royals connection, as his manager the past two seasons has been Trey Hillman, who managed the Royals from 2008 to 2010. Hillman and Kim won the 2018 Korean Series, the fourth title Kim has won. Kim has also pitched on the Korean national team, winning gold medals in the 2008 Olympics, 2014 Asian Games, and 2015 Premier12 tournament.
Fangraphs ranked Kim as the 41st-best free agent available this winter, projecting him to receive a two-year, $14 million deal. According to a 2016 scouting report by Sung-Min Kim at Beyond the Boxscore, Kim throws in the low-90s with a big vertical break, but a high walk rate. He throws a plus slider, but has trouble with his curveball, and his lack of a third pitch limits his ability as a starter. He also underwent Tommy John surgery a few years ago, missing the entire 2017 season
Stuff wise, Kim has a nasty, tilt-a-whirl slider he deploys as his primary swing and miss weapon; the rest of his repertoire (a low-90s fastball, low-70s curveball, and upper-70s changeup) is average or below. It’s a fifth starter/swingman look, barring some kind of velo explosion out of a bullpen.
The Royals have already added one swingman/back-of-the-rotation lefty over the age of 30 in Mike Montgomery, so there may not be a need to add another one. Still, they could use some depth, and having a bunch of pitchers who could move between the rotation and the bullpen would make some sense as the Royals anticipate Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Daniel Lynch to be big-league ready at some point next year. This is probably just the Royals doing their due diligence to look for value buys in the market, but don’t be too surprised if the Royals look to add some pitchers this winter.