By R.B. Fallstrom
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Seung Hwan Oh has been such a dominant pitcher in Japan that he has two nicknames: “Final Boss” and “Stone Buddha.”
The St. Louis Cardinals project the Korean with 357 career saves as a reliever who’ll get the ball to their own record-setting closer, Trevor Rosenthal.
“We felt like we wanted to do something to ramp it up,” general manager John Mozeliak said Monday, Jan. 11, at a news conference to announce the signing of Oh to a one-year contract with a club option for a second year. “He really matched up well for what we were trying to accomplish.”
The 33-year-old Oh, who had 41 saves last year, said through an interpreter that playing in the major leagues has long been a dream and now “the dream comes true.”
“I’ve achieved everything in Korea and Japan as a closer,” Oh said. “I wanted a new environment and was looking for motivation.”
Rosenthal set a franchise record with 48 saves last season for the NL Central champions.
The Cardinals also have Jonathan Broxton and Kevin Siegrist for late-inning work although Mozeliak said the team doesn’t know the availability of Jordan Walden, who missed much of last year with a shoulder injury. “Success in the postseason is based on having a very strong bullpen,” Mozeliak said. “You look at that core and you have to have a lot of confidence going forward.”
The Cardinals have been devoting more energy to finding talent in the Asian market in recent seasons. Earlier this winter, they unsuccessfully bid on Korean first baseman Byung-Ho Park, who landed with the Twins, and last year, they bid on shortstop Jung Ho Kang, who plays for the Pirates.
Mozeliak said the team has been scouting Oh since 2009. Manager Mike Matheny said he’s seen Oh on videotape and was impressed, saying “Good stuff is good stuff.”
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Oh — his name is pronounced “SEWN-whan”— had been facing a suspension for casino gambling had he returned to pitch in Korea. He said he hadn’t been aware that casino gambling was illegal in that country. Mozeliak said the sides came to an agreement before that suspension was announced.
Oh signed a free agent deal with Hanshin prior to last season. He led the Japanese Central League in saves in 2014 and ‘15, setting the record for most saves by a Korean pitcher in Japanese League play. In 498 career games in Korea and Japan, Oh is 32-20 with a 1.81 ERA with 772 strikeouts in 646 1-3 innings. He also was a member of the Gold medal-winning Korean Olympics team in 2008 and played for Korea in the World Baseball Classic in 2006, ‘09 and ‘13.
The Cardinals will hire a full-time interpreter to help Oh adjust to the United States.
Matheny said it shouldn’t be a big deal with mound conferences because he and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist aren’t big on making “a whole lot of mechanical adjustments,” but rather giving the pitcher a chance to take a deep breath.
Though other rivals have been more active in the offseason, Mozeliak said he’s confident taking this team to spring training next month.
“Ultimately, I’m not all that bullish on necessarily chasing something right now,” the GM said. (end)