Sunday was a cruel day of what ifs for Cubs fans. The tenth anniversary of game 6 of the 2003 NLCS was mentioned constantly throughout the day. After that the pitcher the Cubs finished runners up in bidding for dominated the Cardinals in the NLCS. It was nearly a year ago that I wrote about the Cubs adding Hyun-Jin Ryu. Another opportunity to add a quality young starter from Korea is presenting itself this offseason. 27 year old Suk-Min Yoon is now a free agent looking to come to the States.
As a free agent Yoon has the ability to negotiate with any team he wants. A Korean source suggested that the Cubs or Twins would make sense as cash strapped teams needing starting pitching. It continued that Yoon would only make the switch if he was guaranteed a starting spot. What exactly a guaranteed spot means is left open to interpretation, but the assumption would be that he would at least be given out of spring training to appease him. Yoon coming off a down year in the KBO and wanting a starting spot would suggest that he could come at a very discounted price. However, is he worth that gamble even at a discounted price?
The Cubs have three starting pitchers locked into place for 2014 in Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson. The Cubs also have three other pitchers that could start that have to stay on the big league roster in Carlos Villanueva, Jake Arrieta, and Alberto Cabrera. Now each of those guys might be better served in the bullpen than in the rotation, but the Cubs have plenty of options for the back end of the rotation. Scott Baker on an incentive based deal could also be another back end of the rotation option. The Cubs also certainly need help at the top of the rotation to make it worthwhile to push those guys out of a starting slot.
What is Suk-Min Yoon going to be at the major league level? Hyun-Jin Ryu after all was viewed anywhere from being a three starter to a bullpen arm prior to coming over to the States. Yoon has outpitched Ryu at several points in their career. Yoon outshined Ryu in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and outpitched everyone in the KBO in 2011 when he was the MVP and pitching triple crown winner. Yoon's strikeout rate, walk rate, and ERA were all better than Ryu's that season. Ryu took a step forward and Yoon a step back in 2012. Each of their K/9 were above 9 in 2011, but Yoon fell back to a low of 8.1. Ryu, on the other hand, jumped to over 10 in 2012 before joining the Dodgers.
The other advantage that Ryu had, besides the obvious of left-handedness, is durability. Ryu pitched over 200 innings twice in the KBO, and Yoon has never thrown more than 172.1 innings. Suk-Min Yoon is a smaller build pitcher standing at six feet tall and weighing only 180 pounds. Yoon has also suffered through two shoulder injuries in his career. He has never gone under the knife but his 2010 season was cut short due to a rotator cuff injury that he rehabbed to come back strong in 2011. Yoon started Korea's first game in the World Baseball Classic on March 2nd, but then he was unable to start in the KBO until May 6th due to a shoulder injury. He came into the game as a reliever and suffered from a loss in velocity at first only being able to hit 92 mph. Yoon finished the season with an ERA over 4 and pitched only 87 innings in 2013. More concerning for Yoon was the drop in the K/9 to 7/9 and the increase in BB/9 to 2.9.
Suk-Min Yoon is a three pitch pitcher with a fastball, hard slider and a changeup. He does throw a curveball as well, but he uses that pitch very sparingly. A report from after 2011 said that his fastball sits at 93 and that his changeup is above average. The stuff reads like a run of the mill middle of the rotation starter or worse. The command is what typically makes the difference between the stuff playing up or down. Yoon has had excellent command that was improving until 2013.
With the red flags, Suk-Min Yoon could be hardly counted on to be a difference maker. There are real concerns about his durability to be able to handle a starters workload. The Cubs should still be involved as long as the promise of a starting spot was very soft. The stuff could play up as a reliever with the velocity maybe ticking up closer to the mid 90s suggested in some reports. The combination with a hard slider is a classic closer profile. The ability to switch guys out of the reliever role into the starter role gives the Cubs the chance to roll the dice on Suk-Min Yoon being the next Hyun-Jin Ryu instead of another foreign import bust. The Cubs still need an ace and Yoon won't fill that role. But the opportunity to add a talented pitcher in his twenties can't be passed up again.