Bucs ink Kim to one-year deal
Veteran right-hander will compete for spot in the bullpen
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Though news of an agreement first surfaced last Thursday, the Pirates made the signing of Byung-Hyun Kim official early Sunday morning.
The addition of Kim gives the Pirates yet another option as the team searches to fill four bullpen vacancies.
However, a spot in the bullpen is anything but guaranteed at this point. The 29-year-old South Korean will bring the number of pitchers at the team's Spring Training camp back up to 38, with only eight of those pitchers having a guaranteed spot.
"He still has to make our club," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We aren't giving him any guarantees. We haven't promised him anything other than a chance to come to camp."
The Pirates will pay Kim $850,000 this year, with the possibility of incentives increasing that salary by $1 million. Kim said that in conversations with his agent, he was told that there were a handful of teams interested in his services for the 2008 season. However, Kim said he was not sure on the specifics of which teams had expressed interest.
In order to make space for Kim on the team's 40-man roster, the Pirates designated Ray Olmedo for assignment.
With the contract now finalized, Kim was expected to report to camp and be in uniform on Monday. However, after workouts had ended on Sunday, Kim arrived at Pirate City and spent about an hour working out on his own. He threw long toss on the outfield grass for a while before moving to the batting cages to pitch.
Kim spent his offseason in South Korea and said that he has been throwing now for about two weeks. However, Kim said that he is not concerned about being behind in his throwing program as a result of the lack of work.
"I have to do a lot of work," Kim said. "I'm going to throw every day a lot. So I think [in] two [to] three weeks, I'll be ready."
After pitching as a reliever for the first five years of his Major League career, which began in 1999, Kim has been used more often as a starter than he has been out of the 'pen during each of the past three seasons. However, Huntington has already emphasized that the team is not looking for Kim to be a starter.
"When he was a reliever, he was one of the best relievers in the game," Huntington said. "Byung-Hung Kim is a veteran right-handed pitcher who has pitched, and wants to again pitch, late in games out of the bullpen."
Truly, Kim said, he would still like to start, though he said that ambition isn't going to affect him in his attempt to make Pittsburgh's Opening Day roster. He said the Pirates have made it clear to him that their intentions are to use him in solely in a relief role.
"Actually, I want to start," Kim said. "[Starting] is my dream. But bullpen, yeah, I can do it. And I'm going to do my best."
What the Pirates are especially interested in is Kim's ability to get left-handed hitters out. Doing so could essentially be the key in whether or not Kim becomes a part of the ballclub to open the season.
Kim was successful against lefties as a reliever, but he struggled to maintain the same consistency when he was moved to the 'pen. Last season, for example, Kim made 28 appearances, 22 of which were as a starter. In all, left-handed hitters posted a .316 average against him, while right-handed batters hit at a .242 mark against him.
In 2006, a year in which Kim pitched exclusively as a starter, those averages were .325 and .265, respectively.
However, go back to 2003, the last year that Kim pitched primarily out of the bullpen, and the discrepancy is not there. In 56 games -- only 12 of which were starts -- Kim limited left-handers to a .221 average, which was actually .006 points lower than the mark which right-handers hit against him.
Those are the numbers more reminiscent of what the Pirates expect if Kim is able to dent the Major League roster.
Pitching for the Marlins, Rockies and Diamondbacks last year, Kim went 10-8 with a 6.08 ERA. He said it wasn't too much of a struggle moving clubs three different times during the year, and that despite his inflated ERA, he doesn't look back on the season with disappointment.
"Most time[s], I pitch[ed] very well," Kim said of his outings in 2007. "But a couple of times, I gave up a lot of runs. [I had] a couple of really, really bad games. But really, last year I [felt] better than three years ago, two years ago. I feel [I'm] getting better."
Kim's 2007 numbers do show two very different sides. In nine of his 22 starts, Kim allowed two or fewer runs. However, in five different starts, he allowed five runs or more, including nine runs in four innings during one September start against Atlanta.
He also stumbled in his only appearance against Pittsburgh last year, allowing five runs (four earned) in a start that lasted 2 1/3 innings. He was subsequently booed off the mound by the Arizona fans at Chase Field that night.
When asked if he remembered that outing, which was his first in a Diamondbacks uniform since 2003, Kim smiled.
"They bit me," he answered. "I remember."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.