Choo Shin-soo (right) of the SSG Landers (Yonhap)
Before ex-major leaguer Choo Shin-soo signed with the SSG Landers this year and became an instant star in South Korean baseball, left-hander Kim Kwang-hyun had been the icon for the franchise once called the SK Wyverns.
The lanky left-hander has spent the past two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, while Choo played in the Korea Baseball Organization for the first time in 2021.
With Kim now a free agent, the two could potentially become teammates in 2022. Choo said Saturday he would love to have that opportunity.
"I told him I'd love to play with him," Choo said at a season-ending press conference at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul. "He'll be a huge addition to this club. He'll be a leader on our pitching staff, and he's a competitor."
Asked how Kim responded to that pitch, Choo said with a smile, "He just laughed, and I didn't know what to make of that laughter."
"Obviously, we all have to respect whatever decision he makes," Choo said. "I am sure he'll need some more time to think about his future. Personally, I'd love to play with him."
The Landers still own the rights to Kim, who spent his entire 13-year KBO career with them. If he wants to return to the KBO, Kim would have to sign with the Landers. Kim still had one year left on his four-year deal with the Landers when he joined the Cardinals in December 2019.
Kim went 10-7 with two saves in 35 appearances, including 28 starts, for the Cardinals over the past two seasons.
Choo said the KBO has many gifted young players who could play in the majors, and he said they shouldn't sell themselves short at the negotiating table when the opportunity comes.
"I'd like to tell them they should try to sign a guaranteed major league contract, rather than a split contract (with different amounts of salary paid for times spent in the minors)," Choo said. "If you sign a split contract, teams will send you down to the minors at the first chance they have. You have to make sure you sign a major league deal so that you can start the season in the big leagues no matter what."
Of the many pitchers that he faced in the KBO in his first season, Choo said KT Wiz sidearm pitcher Ko Young-pyo stood out the most.
"I love facing sidearm pitchers, but in the majors, they mostly throw two-seam fastballs, sliders and curves. Ko throws changeups, and he made me look foolish all season," said Choo, who went 0-for-7 with five strikeouts against Ko in 2021. "I just couldn't hit him, and I probably looked bad doing that. I am sure he knows it too. His changeup just disappears on me, and I can't get my timing down."