Could Japan be an option for Kim Kwang-hyun?

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Kim Kwang Hyun [AP/YONHAP]

With no end in sight to the ongoing major league lockout, free-agent pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun may need to look further if he wants to secure a spot for next season before spring training begins.

Both Japanese and Korean media speculated last week that Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League could be an offer for Kim. US media also picked up the idea, although Kim himself has always emphasized that he would like to return to the majors.

But Japan could still be a good option for Kim. The longer the MLB lockout lasts, the shorter the signing window gets — and the lockout may not end until spring training or even the regular season should begin. The inevitable spate of signings that will follow the end of lockdown could see some mid-tier players, like Kim, left out or settle for a worse deal than they might have wanted.

On the other hand, Japanese clubs are free to choose who they want, and some teams – reportedly the Yomiuri Giants, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles – should be able to afford the $4 million. above the annual salary Kim is likely to receive.

Kim joined the St. Louis Cardinals in 2020 after a highly successful career in the KBO, during which he was named MVP at age 20 and won four Korean series with the SK Wyverns. After two seasons in the majors, Kim has a solid MLB career 2.97 ERA with 10 wins and seven losses, solid numbers that suggest he would be a dependable addition to any rotation.

Kim ended the 2021 season without an offer to return to the St. Louis Cardinals for the 2022 season, but he remains a serious prospect in the major leagues. He could still be an option for the Cardinals, as well as a number of other clubs.

But as long as the major leagues remain in lockout, Kim is stuck with no contract, club or clue as to what his immediate future entails.

The majors have been locked out since December 2 last year, when the collective bargaining agreement between the players’ union and the owners ended. Over the past month and a half, the two sides haven’t come close to agreeing on a new deal, with disagreements over issues like pay and the playoffs.

Experts are now predicting the dispute could impact spring training and possibly even the start of the 2022 season.

That leaves players like Kim in the dark as clubs cannot sign new players until a new agreement is in place. Some big names have already decided to make the leap to other leagues — Yasiel Puig, for example, who is joining the Kiwoom Heroes — rather than wait and play for a new MLB contract in the spring.

But the majors still remain an option for Kim. The Korean left-hander has been suggested as a possible FA choice for the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Minnesota Twins, Cardinals and a host of other teams, but he may not know if any of them are the real deal until the lockdown ends .

BY JIM BULLEY [[email protected]]

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