The Korea Baseball Organization‘s Doosan Bears announced this week that they have signed Lefty Brandon Waddell for the remainder of the 2022 season (hat tip: Jee-ho Yoo from South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency). Waddell, a Ballplayers Agency client, will make $230,000 by the end of the season. Waddell had courted the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate, but the Cards announced this morning that his contract has been sold to the Bears. Waddell will take the place of reigning KBO MVP and former Big Leaguer Ariel Mirandawho was discharged due to ongoing health problems in his left shoulder.
Agreements of this type are generally favorable to all parties involved. Waddell is guaranteed a remarkable six-figure sum, exceeding what he would have earned had he finished the season in Triple-A. It would have taken him nearly two months in the big league to make that much money with the Cardinals, and there was no guarantee he would get that opportunity. The cards, meanwhile, lose a bit of depth, but get a buyout for a player they may not have called to the majors in the first place, and the Bears, of course, get the rights to a pitcher they’re clearly intrigued by.
Waddell, 28, is a former Pirates fifth-rounder who has spent part of two seasons in the big leagues, splitting his time between Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Baltimore. He has logged just 12 2/3 big league innings overall and in that time has eight earned runs with 16 hits and 11 walks with nine strikeouts.
Aside from those grisly MLB numbers, Waddell has had solid or better triple-A numbers in three of his four seasons at this level. An 8.70 ERA in the 2019 Juiced Ball campaign skews his overall numbers, but Waddell hit a 3.59 ERA in 135 1/3 innings there in 2018 and has had a 2 ERA since moving to the bullpen last year .91 with a 45-to -14 K/BB ratio in 43 1/3 innings of assist work.
The jump to the KBO will give Waddell immediate earning opportunities and also get a foot in the door for a possible second season abroad if he does well in the second half of the 2022 KBO campaign. We’ve seen plenty of players in this mold building long and lucrative careers in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, and it’s always possible that improved production pitching in Asia will ultimately result in a return to the big leagues (as the case was with Miles Nicholas, Merrill Kelly, Chris Flexen and others more recently). The benefit is twofold, because if Waddell could manage to get back into MLB consideration, he would return as a free agent and thus be able to sign a major league deal free of the restrictions of the MLB arbitration system .
As for Miranda, the injuries are an obviously unfortunate development for a pitcher who, post-2022, looked like someone who could be close to an MLB return himself. The 33-year-old southpaw saw bits of major league action in three seasons (2016-18) with the Orioles and the Mariners, while posting a 4.72 ERA in 223 innings. Since then, he has enjoyed success in all three of Asia’s major professional leagues – the KBO, Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League – with his 2021 season in particular causing a stir.
Miranda amassed 173 2/3 innings with 2.33 ERA balls last season with the Bears, beating out a whopping 31.7% of his opponents with a solid 8.8% walk rate. Last year’s 225 strikeouts were a KBO record, and Miranda turned that dominant performance into a $1.9 million payday that made him the second-highest paid foreign pitcher in the KBO, just behind Drew Rucinski.
That year, however, Miranda only made three starts and a total of 7 2/3 innings with seven runs allowed and a staggering 18 walks, clearly showing that he was never in full health. Miranda, who is now a free agent again, has options to consider, although it is exceedingly rare for a player to be released from a KBO club through injury and then return to the KBO as a free agent, even at a different club. A return to NPB, CPBL or maybe a big league team (likely as part of a minor league deal) could still be an option for Miranda this winter, health permitting.