Ex-MLB pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun eyes championship in return to KBO

INCHEON– In his first season back in South Korea after two years in the majors, SSG Landers’ starter Kim Kwang-hyun isn’t about to ease into the grind.

The left-hander wants nothing less than to capture a championship right away in 2022.

“I have one goal in my mind and one thing only. That is to win a championship,” Kim said Wednesday as he was re-introduced as a member of the Landers franchise in the team’s home city of Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul.

“Whether it’s the players, the coaching staff or the front office, I am sure everyone feels the same way,” Kim added. “I will try to be one of the leaders on a championship club this year.”

After spending the 2020 and 2021 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Kim signed a four-year contract worth 15.1 billion won (US$12.2 million) with the Landers on March 8. It’s the most lucrative contract in Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) history. He will make 13.1 billion won in total salary and 2 billion won in incentives.

In the front-loaded contract, Kim will make 8.1 billion won in salary this season.

Kim had first pitched for the Landers franchise from 2007 to 2019, while they were called the SK Wyverns under different ownership. He was the KBO regular season MVP in 2008 and won four Korean Series titles in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2018.

In his first 13 years with the Landers, Kim went 136-77 with a 3.27 ERA across 298 appearances.

As a Cardinal, Kim went 10-7 with a 2.98 ERA in 35 appearances, including 28 starts, over two seasons.

Kim, who will turn 34 in July, became a free agent after last season, just as major league owners locked out players over a labor dispute in December. As work stoppage dragged on for weeks, Kim chose the certainty and comfort of playing at home.

Then three days after Kim reached his deal with the Landers, the lockout ended and free agency frenzy followed. Perhaps Kim could have signed for more money, if not the security of a four-year deal, but it wasn’t something Kim was dwelling on.

“As soon as the Landers reached out and told me they really needed me, I decided that I would stop thinking about the majors,” Kim said. “I told myself, even if the lockout would end a day after I signed with the Landers, I wasn’t going to regret my decision. And I don’t have any regrets now.”

Kim joins two other former major league pitchers in what should be a formidable rotation. The Landers have brought back right-hander Wilmer Font for his second season and have newly signed former New York Yankees ace Ivan Nova. After missing the postseason by a half game last season, the Landers, on paper, appear to be a heavy preseason favorite. Kim’s goal of winning another Korean Series just may come true.

“All of my teammates welcomed me back with open arms. And it felt like I’d only been gone for a couple of months, not two years,” Kim said with a smile. “At the end of the season, I want to hear people say we won a championship because I came back and did my part on the mound.”

Kim said he rarely sets statistical goals for himself, because “A lot of pitchers’ stats are really dependent on what their teammates do.” As long as the club wins, Kim will be a happy camper.

“Ideally, the team will be winning more than 80 percent of the games that I start,” Kim said. “Whenever I start, I want to make sure my teammates are all fired up and our opponents are intimidated.”

The pitcher said he didn’t have any particular batter he wants to get the better of and instead chose to focus on the defending Korean Series champions, the KT Wiz.

“I think any team who wants to win a title this year will have to go through KT,” Kim said. “I’d love to face them in the postseason and beat them.”

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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