Yoon formally introduced, ready to get to work
Veteran of Korean baseball eager to make his mark in Majors with Orioles
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The first thing that comes to South Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon's mind when you bring up the Baltimore Orioles is Cal Ripken, Jr.'s famous consecutive-games-played streak. Yoon, who was officially unveiled in a news conference Tuesday afternoon, has watched a lot of Major League baseball games.
Now, finally -- two years after he could have been posted -- the right-hander turned down more money to return to the Korean Baseball Organization in order to make his Major League dream a reality.
"Obviously, I liked the terms of the contract," Yoon said through his interpreter, agent Tad Hun Yo of the Boras Corporation, of the three-year, $5.75 million pact. "Dan [Duquette] was very gracious with the terms. And secondarily, the opportunity to start and try to compete for a starting position here with the Orioles."
Yoon, who battled shoulder tendinitis last season and pitched in the bullpen as a result of a late start, has a contract that escalates with his workload. Simply put, the more games he starts, the more money he stands to make. But the O's acquisition of Ubaldo Jimenez, who signed a four-year contract pending the results of Monday's physical, makes for some pretty tough competition.
"I think until we get our arms around him and get him on the field and see where he is physically and get to know him, we're not going to get ahead of ourselves," manager Buck Showalter said of how the team will use Yoon. "We know he has the capability of both [starting and relieving]. We're not going to preclude him from doing anything. He's obviously here to contribute, and the question is going to be when and how. That's what we're looking at. Where that comes into play, if you ask me that in about 10 days, I think we'll have a real good idea. I want to leave us some wiggle room to adjust to him, as opposed to him adjusting to us."
Yoon, the first Korean-born player to be an Oriole, will wear No. 18, which represents the ace in international play. With a repertoire similar to current starter Miguel Gonzalez, Yoon went 3-6 with a 4.00 ERA and seven saves last season for the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization. His best pro season in South Korea was in 2011, when he went 17-5 with a 2.45 ERA.
"He's a nine-year veteran of professional baseball in Korea," Duquette said of Yoon, who is listed at 6 feet and 190 pounds. "He's a three-time All-Star. He also won the Gold Glove. In 2011, he had the pitching Triple Crown. Lifetime, he's got a 2.75 [strikeout-to-walk] ratio, but actually in the past three years, it's 3.72/1.
"So he's improved over the last three years, and that's always a good standard, if you will, for players that are coming into Major League baseball, because now you know he has the pitches and he has good control of the pitches, and he can throw the ball where he wants to."
Still, it is a big jump in competition for Yoon, who has been in the United States since November, strengthening his shoulder. He suited up on Tuesday and did some sprints and long toss off to the side, saying he was excited to finally get out on the field. The last bullpen session Yoon threw was in Arizona while auditioning for opposing clubs, and he commented on how much he likes playing in the U.S., where the facilities are all first-rate.
"I had better offers in Korea to play in the KBO and stay there," Yoon said. "But ever since I could have been posted two years ago, and now that I'm a free agent now, my determination to pitch in the U.S. hasn't changed -- in the MLB. That was the ultimate decision-maker. It wasn't necessarily about the money, it was about the opportunity to be competitive and play in the best league in the world."
Asked how he felt about the possibility of being a reliever, Yoon said he would draw on his experience with the Kia Tigers, and the uncertainty surrounding that.
"I'm approaching that in the same manner," he said. "I want to work hard, look good in front of the manager and pitch well, so I have an opportunity to start."
The club is also hopeful Yoon, whose throwing session took place off to the side, can start working out with his teammates soon. Duquette said the club is still working on a scenario that avoids sending Yoon back to South Korea to secure a work visa.
"We think we have a solution to that where he can go to Canada and return," Duquette said. "So we are going to try to do it that way. But that's still in process. We are hoping to get that resolved in the next couple weeks."
Yoon's interpreter is scheduled to arrive on Thursday, and Duquette singled out Yoon for his instrumental part in getting the contract finalized. The signing is the Orioles' third Major League contract to an Asian-born player under Duquette, following Tsuyoshi Wada -- now in Cubs camp -- and Wei-Yin Chen, who is part of the current rotation.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.