ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals officially introduced their newest arm Monday, unveiling the signing of Korean closer Seung Hwan Oh at a noon press conference at Busch Stadium.
The 33-year-old Oh is one of the greatest relievers in Asian baseball history, posting 357 saves between Korea and Japan. He holds the Korea Baseball Organization’s all-time saves record, and when he joined Nippon Pro Baseball’s Hanshin Tigers in 2014, he was named Top Closer and Climax Series MVP that season.
In 2015, he posted 41 saves for the Tigers, and when his contract ended, felt it was time to take on another challenge.
“I achieved everything in Korea and Japan, in both countries, as a closer. I wanted a new environment and was looking for motivation and a new challenge,” Oh said through translator Douglas Kim. “The Major Leagues was my dream when I started to play baseball when I was young. I think this is a dream come true.”
The Cardinals had been eyeing Oh since 2009, when Matt Slater (now director of player development) and scout Jeff Ishii began tracking him. The club had made a concerted effort to explore the Asian markets and were struck by Oh's impressive career. At the Winter Meetings this year, the Cardinals met with his representatives and began negotiations.
With the expiration of his contract, the club did not have to pay a posting fee to negotiate with Oh, and were able to sign him as a true free agent, beating out a couple other clubs.
“I did hear from my agent there were a few interested MLB clubs, but my decision was to join the Cardinals because they showed unlimited support and [interest] toward me,’ Oh said.
That support continued when news of a KBO suspension came down after the Cardinals had agreed to terms with Oh. The KBO docked Oh 72 games for gambling, meaning if the righty had returned to Korea to play rather than Japan or the U.S., he would have missed half of a season.
The gambling in question was unrelated to a baseball. Oh was playing in a casino card game abroad, while gambling is not allowed in Korea, he was unaware that it was illegal for him to gamble even outside of the country.
“It was literally just making a bet in a card game,” said Cardinals GM and VP of Operations John Mozeliak. “We did clear it with Major League Baseball and the Players Association checked off on it as well. From our standpoint, there was really no reason not to pursue this.”
The organization settled on a one-year deal with the righty, with a club option for 2017. He will enter camp competing for a late-inning spot, though the club was clear Trevor Rosenthal is firmly entrenched in the closer role.
Kevin Siegrist, Jonathan Broxton and Seth Maness are all returning, so spring training will determine how the late innings stack up. It will also serve as Oh’s first test against MLB hitters.
He throws a dynamic fastball, able to hit 95 miles per hour consistently. Asked to describe movement, the language barrier hampered discussions of whether or not it was a true cutter, but Oh did say his hard slider can act as a cutter. As for the fastball, Mozeliak stepped in and pointed out the important thing:
“When I watched him on the video provided to me, it was certainly not straight,” he said. “It has been referred to as a rising fastball from time to time, but physics always says that’s not possible. The nice part is, it’s not straight.”
Regardless of the terminology, Oh believes his stuff will play in the majors. Saying historically terrifying closer Mariano Rivera is his role model, Oh spoke confidently on the transition to U.S. baseball.
“Baseball is always the same whenever you play,” he said. “I’ve been training for a future in the MLB and I have a lot of confidence. I am ready to pitch here.”
Oh will wear number 26, and The Cardinals will hire a translator for Mike Matheny's staff to act as a communication liaison. As for the fans, they will have their choice of tremendous nicknames for their new pitcher.
His late-game dominance has earned him the name “The Final Boss,” referring to the person a player must defeat before they beat a video game. He has also been dubbed “The Stone Buddha,” because oh his unshakable demeanor and emotionless face on the mound.
“Many nicknames [show] the fans affection," he said. “Both names came from the fans and I really like them both a lot.”
Copyright 2016 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.