Exploring the Cardinals' history of signing pitchers from Japan and Korea

The Cardinals have dabbled in the Japanese and Korean leagues for baseball players a few times recently. Which players did they pluck, and how did they perform in their time stateside?

St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates
St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages
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Kwang Hyun Kim

Kwang Hyun Kim, more commonly known as "KK" to St. Louis fans, pitched twelve seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization before the Cardinals signed him in the 2019-2020 offseason. In order to make space for the left-handed starter, the Cardinals designated Adolis Garcia for assignment, a move that still haunts the team to this day.

At the time, St. Louis needed a left-handed starting pitcher to provide balance to a rotation that had Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Miles Mikolas. The team's reserve starters included Daniel Ponce de Leon and Johan Oviedo, both pitchers with minimal run in the majors. The hope was that Kim would provide not only depth but also raise the floor of the rotation.

Across Kim's twelve seasons in the KBO, he had an ERA in the low 3.00s, and he was coming off a season in which he pitched 190 innings with a 2.51 ERA when St. Louis signed him. Kim was thirty-one when St. Louis inked him to a two-year, $8 million contract that would keep him with the team through the 2021 season.

In his first season in St. Louis in 2020, Kim pitched thirty-nine innings (seven starts) with a 1.62 ERA, 3.88 FIP, and 1.026 WHIP. He had paltry strikeout numbers (5.5 K/9 innings), but he did a good job at limiting home runs and hits. Kim's second season in 2021 was also strong. He pitched 106.2 innings with a 7-7 record and a 3.46 ERA. His successful, albeit brief, stay in Major League Baseball launched him to a lucrative four-year, $12.3 million deal with the SSG Lancers in Korea.

Kim, despite the various complications with moving to the States, especially during COVID, pitched quite well during his time in St. Louis.