KBO’s Hanwha Eagles sack Nick Kingham

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The Korea Baseball Organization’s Hanwha Eagles announced Thursday that they correctly placed former Pirates and Blue Jays Nick Kingham in the event of a waiver of release. He will become a free agent after the clearing while the Eagles (who just signed Yefri Ramirez) will be in the market for another pitcher. By rule, KBO clubs can field up to three foreign players (with a maximum of two pitchers).

Kingham’s release certainly wasn’t down to performance – he’s been outstanding for the Eagles since last season – but more to an arm problem that has plagued him throughout the season, as first reported by Yonhap news agency’s Jee-ho Yoo. Kingham was sidelined with the injury after just three appearances this year and Yoo writes that it flared up again in a recent bullpen session as he tried to work his way back up. The team originally called the problem an upper arm strain, according to Yoo, but I’m told Kingham is dealing with bone spurs in his pitching elbow and will need surgery to remove them. That will keep him sidelined for the foreseeable future but should set him up for the 2023 season.

Given his earlier pedigree and pre-injury success in the KBO, Kingham’s release is a little more interesting than the standard KBO release. While clearly not at full strength at the moment, he is a former top 100 contender who played at a high level abroad before his injury. In 160 1/3 innings with the Eagles, Kingham posted a 3.13 ERA with a 22.5% strikeout rate, 7.0% walk rate and a tremendous 62.6% ground ball rate.

Obviously, a layoff from the KBO, whether due to injury or performance, isn’t a typical way back on the big league radar. Any major league interest in Kingham hinges on both his recovery and how far teams have bought into the 6’5-inch right’s success. There was at least one clear, noticeable shift in his ability, as Kingham never recorded even a 50% groundball rate in any full season (major or minors), but was at 60.5% in 2021 and 79.5% in his 16 1/3 innings this year. He has revised and intensified the use of both his changeup and curveball since signing abroad, which has contributed to the change in his batting profile.

Whether that translates into interest from big league teams — whether it’s a small major league deal or a more likely non-guaranteed deal and a spring training invite — remains to be seen. That being said, Kingham should see renewed interest from clubs in both KBO and Japan’s Nippon Professional baseball. He will play all next season at the age of 31. Even if he ends up returning to South Korea or jumping to Japan, Kingham still has plenty of time to reapply for a spot in a major league roster while continuing to build on the strides he’s already made with the Eagles.

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