South Korean pitcher Yoon Suk-min has reached an agreement with the Baltimore Orioles, pending a physical, multiple U.S. reports said on Thursday.
CBS Sports.com said the right-hander has agreed to join the Major League Baseball team but will have to pass the team's physical. Another report on MLB.com said the deal is worth $5.75 million over three years.
Earlier this week, Yoon tweeted a photo of himself wearing an Orioles cap, fueling speculation that a deal was imminent. The Orioles said there was no deal in place as of Wednesday morning, Eastern Standard Time.
Yoon is a former MVP in the Korea Baseball Organization, winning the pitching Triple Crown for the Kia Tigers in 2011 with 17 wins, 178 strikeouts and a 2.45 ERA.
He was sidelined at the start of the 2013 season with a shoulder injury, and was limited to 87 2/3 innings. He went 3-6 with seven saves in 30 appearances, 11 of them starts, with a 4.00 ERA, 76 strikeouts and 28 walks.
The three-time KBO All-Star has a career record of 73-59 with 44 saves and a 3.19 ERA in 303 appearances. In 1,129 innings, he has struck out 949 batters and walked 345. He has been both a starter and a closer in his KBO career.
Yoon pitched for South Korea at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classic. Starting the semifinal match against Venezuela at the 2009 WBC, Yoon held the South American team of MLB veterans to two runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings, as South Korea romped to a 10-2 victory.
Yoon became an international free agent after the 2013 season, having completed his ninth KBO season. In 2011, Yoon was eligible to be posted for an auction among interested MLB clubs with the Tigers' consent. The Tigers, however, didn't grant Yoon his wish, on the grounds that they needed him to compete for a KBO title.
Yoon also required the team's approval to pursue a major league contract after the 2012 season and the Tigers also declined.
Yoon, represented by uber-agent Scott Boras, has also been linked with the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins. Earlier this month, he threw separate bullpen sessions before scouts from the Orioles, the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers.
During this off-season, the Orioles have had agreements with two free agents, Grant Balfour and Tyler Colvin, which fell through after the players' physicals. Balfour, a relief pitcher, went on to sign with the Tampa Bay Rays, while Colvin, an outfielder, remains a free agent after a pre-existing back injury foiled his deal with the O's.
In late 2011, a South Korean pitcher, Chong Tae-hyon, had agreed to join the O's but failed the team's physical. The right-hander ended up signing with the Lotte Giants in the KBO.
Also in 2011, the Orioles signed a Japanese left-hander, Tsuyoshi Wada, to a two-year, $8.15 million deal. He never got to pitch for the big league club, however, after undergoing an elbow reconstruction operation, commonly known as Tommy John Surgery.
If the deal is finalized, Yoon would become the second South Korean to move directly from the KBO to the majors. Left-handed pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers made that jump in December 2012, and won 14 games in his rookie season.
The Texas Rangers' outfielder Choo Shin-soo is the other full-time big leaguer from South Korea. Right-hander Lim Chang-yong pitched briefly for the Chicago Cubs last season and has been invited to the Cubs' spring training this month to fight for a big league job.
On the sidelines of his spring training in Glendale, Arizona, Ryu predicted Yoon would make a smooth transition to the big leagues. "I spoke to Suk-min a few days ago about the deal," Ryu said. "The U.S. is completely different from Korea, and he'll be playing in a much better environment. As long as he can make his adjustments, I think he will put up good numbers."
Ryu added Yoon should try to mingle with his new teammates.
"Other than the language barrier, I haven't experienced a lot of problems in the U.S.," Ryu said. "Suk-min is a bit of an introvert, but if he can make efforts to gel with his teammates, I think it will help his transition."
The Orioles' pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to the spring training on Thursday local time in Sarasota, Florida, and their first workout is scheduled for the following day.
Dan Duquette, the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations, has long been known for his active pursuit of South Korean players. While he was the general manager for the Red Sox from 1994 to 2002, Duquette signed three South Korean pitchers, Kim Sun-woo, Cho Jin-ho and Lee Sang-hoon, all of whom reached the majors on his watch.
In February 2012, the Orioles botched the signing of a South Korean high school sophomore, Kim Seong-min, when they failed to tender a status check, as required by MLB teams seeking to acquire a South Korean player.
The Orioles issued an apology for their mishap. The left-hander's contract was not approved by the MLB for 30 days, and Baltimore ultimately didn't sign Kim. Baltimore scouts are banned from attending amateur baseball games in South Korea.
Last July, the O's signed a South Korean left-hander, Yoon Jung-hyun, a college dropout, to a minor league deal. (Yonhap)