Orioles Do Something, Land Suk-min Yoon

For the Orioles it’s been an offseason of mostly quiet contemplation, interrupted only by brief attempted dalliances with Grant Balfour and Tyler Colvin. At last, though, they are stirring again, reaching a three-year agreement with Korean righty Suk-min Yoon worth a reported $5.75 million. The contract, like the others were, is pending a physical, so perhaps it would’ve been wiser to hold off on writing this for another few days, but let’s just assume this is going to be official. Let’s assume the Orioles know what they’re getting into.

Yoon’s a risky sort with limited upside, and there are real questions here that’ll be discussed later on. There’s a reasonable chance Yoon never throws quality innings in the bigs, and there are reasons why he’s signed for less than the market rate of one single win. But let’s just get something clear: this is hardly any money, especially given the three-year guarantee. More money this offseason was thrown at Garrett Jones. A similar amount of money was guaranteed to Willie Bloomquist. Michael Morse got more money. Chad Qualls got more money. Edward Mujica got a lot more money, despite ending up last year with shoulder fatigue. It should be recognized that this is a small commitment, with upside more in terms of potential value than potential ability on the pitcher’s part.

The good: Yoon’s 27, and he’s been able to get his fastball into the 90s, and a few years ago he was Korean Baseball’s most valuable player. He has a full arsenal, and while people like his slider and changeup the most, he’s also been said to throw a curveball and a forkball.

The bad: Yoon’s come down from his MVP season. He split last year between the rotation and the bullpen, due in large part to a recurring shoulder issue that some have characterized as serious. Yoon isn’t thought to be on the same level as Hyun-jin Ryu, and there’s not even a consensus on whether he’s a future starter or reliever. It should be noted again that Yoon signed for considerably less money than Garrett Jones did.

Here’s one video of Yoon pitching:

Here’s another video of Yoon pitching. Below, some .gifs, selective for better pitches since nobody wants pitcher .gifs of mediocre pitches:






Something Yoon doesn’t have is pinpoint command. He also seems to have a tendency to leave pitches up, so he’s probably not going to match Ryu’s 51% groundball rate. For the Orioles, right away, he’s going to compete for a rotation slot, but it might be that he needs some time to adjust to living here and playing here, and the organization has at least three years to get value out of his arm. Yoon doesn’t necessarily need to pay off right away.

In Ryu’s last season in Korea, he struck out more than ten batters per nine innings. In Yoon’s best season in Korea, he struck out nine batters per nine innings, and then his strikeout rate fell for two consecutive years. The dropping strikeouts are a concern, and the shoulder problem is a concern, and Yoon’s never going to get by by overpowering his opposition. He doesn’t have Ryu’s skillset, but then in his debut big-league season, Ryu was a 3- or 4-win starting pitcher. Yoon can be his own kind of good, and there’s value in being even just all right.

Hisashi Iwakuma was posted, and when he couldn’t reach an agreement with the A’s, he returned to Japan. That season he injured his shoulder and he later wound up signing with the Mariners at a bargain contract. Now Iwakuma looks like one of the better starters in baseball, despite a pedestrian fastball and an assortment of health questions. This would be the best possible way for Yoon to work out.

But then, the Orioles don’t have to look that far for reasons to be optimistic. They’ve squeezed 300 adequate innings out of minor-league acquisition Miguel Gonzalez. More pertinently, they’ve had a positive experience so far with Wei-Yin Chen. Chen signed out of Japan for three years and a little over $11 million. He had and has a repertoire much like Yoon’s, and in Chen’s last two years in Japan, his strikeout rate collapsed from 20% to 14%. He didn’t have a shoulder problem that I know of, but there were reasons to stay away from Chen, and yet what the Orioles have gotten is 4.3 WAR over 330 innings. Or 4.7 WAR, depending on your preference. Chen’s been an average starting pitcher, and while there’s nothing particularly exciting about that, there’s something more exciting about having an average starting pitcher at a fraction of what you’d expect to pay for that. That’s how a team like the Orioles can boost its effective payroll.

Yoon isn’t Chen; Yoon isn’t anyone but himself. He’ll have his own professional experience, and it will either work out or it won’t. He throws fine pitches, yes. He has some issues, yes. But over a three-year period, the Orioles are paying him the free-agent rate of almost one whole win. People disagree on how to calculate that rate, but pretty much all the current estimates are north of Yoon’s $5.75-million guarantee. So that sets for Yoon a very low bar. Even if you figure the Orioles need to be a little more efficient than the market average, Yoon just doesn’t have to do much for the Orioles to come away with this having been worth their while. And if he can be an average starter for, say, the equivalent of two seasons, that’s several millions of dollars of surplus value. Even Yoon as a reliever could be more than worth the salary.

If he’s busted, he’s busted, and shoulder problems are some of the worst problems to have. But as recently as a year or two ago, Yoon would’ve been a pretty high-profile potential acquisition, and he’s still well shy of 30 years old. So this is a relatively inexpensive roll of the dice, with a distinctly unsexy sort of upside. Yoon might turn himself into a perfectly fine big-league pitcher. And for the cost, the Orioles would be ecstatic. Value’s value, however you get it.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

36 Responses to “Orioles Do Something, Land Suk-min Yoon”

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  1. Eric Lutz says:

    Maybe value is value, but this is not what the Orioles truly NEED.
    They need to find one flamethrower with nasty stuff. They desperately need an ace, someone they can count on. Not adding to the plethora of mediocre pitching they already have. You wasted the career year of Chris Davis last year, do you really want to do it again?

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    • bdhudson says:

      You wanna find them a hundred million lying around somewhere? Or a reliable ace that’s waiting for a team?

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      • attgig says:

        Just look in Angelos’ mattress. he’s getting an extra 25 mil per year from mlb, but not changing payroll. he’s also fleecing the nats on the tv deal, and payroll… yup, still the same.

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        • bdhudson says:

          Ask Moreno how throwing money around works out

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        • GiveEmTheBird says:

          I hate this line of thought. If YOU had $100mm lying around would you use it to buy the Orioles a pitcher (or would you rather use it for yourself)? Angelos is no different. He is doing what needs to be down to preserve his business’s revenue stream, keep the fans that have come coming, keep the media content value, and so forth. The rest is his money and no one else’s. if you want to start up a collection bucket or want to stop giving your money to him go ahead – just stop complaining about what is not yours. Angelo’s doesn’t tell you how to spend your money.

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      • Justin says:

        Angelos has alot of money. Just the money from MASN alone could be put to good use. You’d think someone of his age would like to see a championship in Baltimore but he holds true to his Scrooge McDuck mentality as he probably plans to be buried with his millions of dollars. I believe the highest paid Orioles pitcher all time is Kevin Millwood

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        • Dean Travers says:

          It’s not Angelos’ money to spend–it’s Baltimore taxpayer money; the net annual cost of Camden Yards to Baltimore’s taxpayers is 11 mil.

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      • Eric Lutz says:

        then you pocket money if there is no one, spend it more wisely later. But if they were going to go out and spend the money anyway on someone that is completely marginal, like this Korean guy, then AJ Burnett would have been way way better than Yoon as an option (since he has a whole career in MLB to justify your purchase), and would not have cost $100 million on a one or two year deal, not even close.

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    • Catoblepas says:

      I can’t stand this line of thought. Enough mediocre absolutely equals great, and stars-and-scrubs does not lead to guaranteed success (see: Angels, 2013). Especially saying that they need a specific position filled by a superstar, or a specific type of player at that specific position, strikes me as ridiculous. Focus on value. The Yankees could’ve added Jimenez, Santana, and a decent infielder for what they paid for Tanaka. They would be without an ace, but they would have a team way more likely to make the playoffs.

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      • Jay29 says:

        Jimenez, Santana, and Infante on 3-5 year deals each also means the Yankees couldn’t improve at those positions. With Tanaka, Kelly Johnson, and Brian Roberts, they can add a quality infielder or two in July or December and be the better team for the next few years because of it.

        You have to remember two things: (1) the Yankees don’t really care how much they pay as long as they get the players they want, and (2) they want to win every year. Having two below-average players isn’t great in February, but it’s also an opportunity to improve, which means their ceiling for 2014 (and 2015) is higher with Tanaka than with Ubaldo et al.

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        • Catoblepas says:

          I don’t see how you can seriously make the argument that adding 5-6 WAR at one position and not adding anything at another, with a potential to scrape some rent-an-infielder away from another team at the trade deadline at significant cost to an already-limping farm system, is better than adding 8 WAR spread across three positions. You say they don’t care how much they spend, but why didn’t they sign Tanaka AND Jimenez AND every other free agent? Obviously their tolerance is higher than other teams, but it isn’t nonexistent. Saying “it lets them improve later” is the craziest justification for holding onto bad players and not improving now I’ve ever heard.

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        • Cliff says:

          Jimenez, Infante and Santana combined wouldn’t come close to adding 8 WAR. They are each 2-2.5 WAR players and the players they would replace are 1.5-2 WAR(Johnson/Dean Anna, Phelps/Pineda/Nuno). Or close enough. It’s possible they wouldn’t add any WAR at all. Tanaka as a 4 WAR projected starter easily adds 2-2.5 WAR. The reason they didn’t follow your plan is because they are not idiots.

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    • bdhudson says:

      A flamethrower with nasty stuff….like Gausman?

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    • Jonathan says:

      This is a ridiculous line of thought. I’m a Red Sox fan and people were throwing this garbage around at this time last year.

      For one, aces aren’t just lying around and money will almost never actually get you one (And in the rare instance that it would, you’re not going to outbid the large market teams for one), and even if you did, you’d be paying way above market value for maybe two or three years of actual ace performance.

      Second, and more importantly, a deep pitching rotation is infinitely more effective than having one bonafide ace. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have one, but the Red Sox didn’t have one last year (Look, I like Lester, but it’s hard to call him an ace overall considering his relatively uneven season) and they did pretty okay.

      Any team is better off trying to develop their own solid pitching rotation (See Cardinals, Rays) and using their finances to fill in the blanks.

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  2. Juicy says:

    I think this is a great low risk add based on the cash they threw at him. If he works out thats a huge profit as they underpaid on teh market value. Like you said as recently as a year or two ago, Yoon would’ve been a pretty high-profile potential acquisition before the shoulder issues. If it works out they struck gold financially if it doesn’t who gives a rats ass because they through change at a bum on a street corner.

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  3. TheGrandslamwich says:

    I am way too immature to have him be a household name.

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  4. KS says:

    This isn’t going to quiet the raging fan base, but Dan Duquette deserves a pat on the back. If Yoon turns into another Chen or Gonzalez, which admittedly is probably his ceiling, Duquette will have pulled off a steal. If he merely becomes a solid set-up man in the bullpen, it will have been a good value signing. Give credit where it’s due: all teams, and especially mid-market clubs like the Orioles, need these kinds of deals, so it’s a smart move by Duquette.

    As for the team going out and getting an ace, someone please tell me what rock they’re supposed to find this unknown ace under? None of the available free agents were true aces, David Price isn’t available, and Jeff Samardzija isn’t a proven ace, even though the Cubs were apparently pricing him like one. So, even if the team was inclined to spend $25-30M on an “ace,” where were they supposed to find him?

    True, Ervin Santanna, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jiminez would be slight upgrades over what they have… IF they stay healthy (in Garza’s case) and don’t revert to their 2012 forms. Honestly, if it was your money, would you be willing to commit 4 years, $50+ M and a first round pick to an iffy 1-2 more wins?

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    • Philip says:

      The problem is that this is ALL Duquette is doing.
      Signing Peguero, Berry, et al is fine IF you already have a competent Left Fielder, but we don’t, and Duquette just refuses to sign even a league average guy, because he won’t pay market value.
      Yes current market value is obscene, but that’s the way it goes.
      Lough comes close, but he’s not an every day LF.
      As many people have said, we’ve assembled a staff of #4-5 starters without a single big #2, let alone an established ace.

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      • Walker says:

        I have no problem with that being all Duquette is doing. If he thinks Lough or one of the other guys can be a competent LF, I’ll trust him on that. He was spot-on with McLouth after all.

        The way I see it, Duquette’s been part of the reason Baltimore is finally competing instead of continuing to rack up losing seasons. If he continues to get good performance out of cast-offs and career minor leaguers, I’m sure as heck not going to complain. I just don’t understand why there’s so much criticism after marked improvement from the previous decade of Oriole baseball.

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  5. Guest says:

    I was certain the Astros or Marlins were going to sign him; I mean c’mon, dude has “suck” right there in his name.

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  6. Thijs says:

    Suck my what?

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  7. tony says:

    Orioles are waiting on the development of Gausman, Bundy, E. Rodriguez, Hunter Harvey and they will determine how successful the Duquette era really becomes. The question will be whether they can extend their core to keep around for another 2-3 years till all those are ready. Jones is already signed, they need to extend Machado, but the trickier ones will be Chris Davis who will command mega deal if he is anywhere close to 2013 numbers this year and Wieters who is a Boras client and who is likely going to be too expensive for value.

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    • Trade Davis now! If he was a one season wonder you lose, if he is awesome you need to trade him next year because you can’t afford to resign him, and if he is mediocre than who cares. There is no upside here. Getting some nice prospects in return is the way to go (assuming that’s possible).

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  8. Kevin says:

    in the GIF’s the change looks like his best pitch, slider and fastball just average.

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  9. SEO says:

    Just Believe in Yoon, anticipating his good pitching…

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  10. That Guy says:

    If we’re looking for value, the catcher needs to find a MLB roster, what that framing. Cripes, he was perfect, at least according to GIFs which never lie.

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  11. Detroit Michael says:

    That’s some funky umpiring in the first gif.

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  12. jay J says:

    Just Just Just try to believe in yoon . will be good!!!!

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  13. KCDaveInLA says:

    Dat slider. *bites lip*

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  14. hbar says:

    His knee on his follow-through leg looks like it hyperextends as he walks off the mound in the 3rd GIF/4th image. I hope it’s just weird video. Very distracting.

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  15. Mr Punch says:

    In the 2009 WBC, I saw Yoon dominate a Venezuela team with a terrific MLB batting order (Miguel Cabrera, for one). That’s five years ago, of course, and Matsuzaka was MVP of the tournament – but Yoon was a very good major league quality starter that day.

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  16. BigCheese says:

    MR. Punch…. Keep drinking that Orioles Koolaid! If Yoon looked good 5 years ago and Angelos dealt with Boras when 4 other teams had looked in at Yoon I say watchout!

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  17. Headward Barnswallow says:

    I like this deal for the Orioles. They could potentially get some great value out of this guy if his velocity is back to what it was before his shoulder surgery. His change up looks like a plus pitch from these videos and gifs with the rest of his pitches look rather average. If his velocity is back to the low 90’s then he should be able to get guys out.

    His stats in the KBO leave something to be desired recently but over his career he’s been one of the best pitchers in the league. I’m excited to see what he can do as a reliever.

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