Kia Tigers lefty Hyeon-jong Yang is expected to explore offers from MLB teams this winter, Jeeho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency tweets. The former KBO MVP is wrapping up a two-year deal with the same Tigers club with which he’s spent the past 14 seasons.
If Yang’s name sounds familiar to MLBTR readers, it’s likely due to the fact that the Tigers posted the southpaw for big league clubs back in the 2014-15 offseason. That was in the days of a since restructured posting system between MLB and the KBO, wherein all 30 big league clubs had the option of submitting a blind bid on what release fee they’d pay a player’s club. Yang’s Tigers did not feel that the winning bid — believed to be submitted by the Rangers — was enticing enough to part with their top pitcher.
Yang returned to the KBO and even signed a pair of free-agent deals with the Kia organization, but he’ll now apparently gauge MLB interest this winter. As a 14-year pro, he’s exempt from international signing restrictions and can sign a Major League contract for any amount or length.
The 2020 season hasn’t been a strong one for Yang, however, as his 4.46 ERA is his highest mark since the 2012 season. That said, Yang also ranks 14th among KBO pitchers with a 4.02 FIP (min. 50 innings pitched), and this year’s 8.1 K/9 mark is his highest since the 2014 season that led to his original posting. Assuming he finishes out this season healthy, Yang will have averaged 30 starts per season over his past seven years. He’s pitched to a 3.52 ERA with a 1074-to-410 K/BB ratio in 1267 frames over that seven-year span.
Of course, clubs will be far more interested in what they project Yang to be in 2021 than in what he’s done since his age-26 season. He’ll turn 33 next March, meaning he’s on the wrong side of a player’s typical prime, but considering the perennial offseason demand for pitching, it’s easy to envision some big league clubs taking a speculative look at a durable, low-risk flier for the rotation. Yang’s countryman, Kwang Hyun Kim, signed a two-year, $8MM deal with the Cardinals last winter when he was two years younger and was coming off a better platform. It’ll obviously be a different market for pitching this year, but there’s little precedent for a pitcher of Yang’s age commanding a sizable Major League deal in his first bite at the apple.