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February 10, 2012

The BP First Take

Friday, February 10

by Daniel Rathman

Under the direction of new general manager Dan Duquette, the Orioles have spent the better part of this offseason making inroads in Asia. They signed Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada to a two-year, $8.15 million deal in December, and then inked Taiwanese southpaw Wei-Yin Chen to a three-year, $11.3 million hitch in early January.

For a rebuilding team looking to bridge the gap between itself and the AL East powerhouses, wading in the talent pool across the Pacific is a sound strategy. Wada and Chen do not have star-level potential, but both could be solid contributors at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the Orioles went a step too far when they brought in 17-year-old amateur lefty Seong-Min Kim from South Korea on January 30.

The Korean Baseball Organization immediately raised hell about the signing, and on Thursday, the Korean Baseball Association informed the Orioles that their scouts are no longer welcome at KBO games.  KBA rules prohibit international teams from yanking South Korean amateurs out of school to pitch professionally, a regulation that serves a twofold purpose. In addition to ensuring that teenagers complete their high school and college education, it also keeps elite prospects from darting after the six- or seven-figure signing bonuses available abroad. South Koreans have tremendous national pride—illustrated, among other ways, by their two-year military service requirement that nearly interrupted Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo’s big-league career—and the Orioles’ decision to hastily sign Kim was viewed as an unforgivable infringement.

An argument could be made that South Korea benefits from having its top baseball players showcased in the world’s most prominent league, but the KBA’s desire to keep talent within its borders is certainly understandable. Moreover, there is no question that the Orioles overstepped their bounds and were inexplicably negligent in their investigation (or lack thereof) into Kim’s rights as a free agent. Not only have the Orioles been blacklisted by the KBA, but Kim has too—and despite the $550,000 check, that has to be a bitter pill for the teenager to swallow.

Unless amends are made, this will be an ugly situation from all angles. The KBA has filed a grievance with Major League Baseball. The Orioles have at least temporarily been denied access to a country that may become a key source of talent. And a 17-year-old is stuck in the middle of the spat.

Kim had not even been born when Duquette became general manager of the Expos in 1991. Since then, Duquette has made considerable efforts to broaden baseball’s horizons, from reaching out to minority players and coaches while with the Red Sox, to founding the short-lived Israel Baseball League in 2007.

Duquette understands the seriousness of the situation and said on Thursday that the team is “cooperating with MLB to resolve this concern.” But with nearly a quarter-century of experience as an executive and ambassador for the game, Duquette simply should have known better. There is no excuse.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

14 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Ric Size

Daniel Rathman, you're rapidly becoming my new favorite BP beat writer. Keep 'em coming!

Feb 10, 2012 05:39 AM
rating: 6
 
Brock Dahlke

I agree, I would very much enjoy some lengthier articles by him

Feb 11, 2012 00:30 AM
rating: 0
 
gregorybfoley

What gives KBA the right to tell Seong-Min Kim who he can work for? Do they own him just because he's Korean?

Feb 10, 2012 06:05 AM
rating: 0
 
timber

There are at least two issues here that I see:

Kim has not yet started his final year of high school. I don't know for sure, but South Korean laws may require completion of high school and he will not be doing so since he intends to report immediately. Certainly most countries at least prefer to have their citizens complete their education, and even if it's not mandatory, it doesn't reflect well on MLB that the Orioles have convinced him to skip his last year. Many teams do agree with their youngest international signings that they will complete school and only work with the team outside of the school year.

MLB's agreement with the KBA is that MLB teams will not contact students before their final year of school, and the Orioles clearly violated this. MLB does value its relationship with the KBA (and NPB too, for that matter), and not honoring it is a black mark on MLB.

Feb 10, 2012 09:36 AM
rating: 1
 
gregorybfoley

Did Kim sign this agreement between KBA and MLB? Are agreements between employers that limit the employment options of prospective employees legal?

Feb 10, 2012 10:53 AM
rating: 0
 
Patrick

Professional baseball is full of agreements that limit employment options of prospective employees, from the lowest levels of the minor leagues to the majors.

Feb 10, 2012 13:08 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

One thing to note here is that Kim's contract with the Orioles is likely to stand, so the KBA is not exactly preventing him from choosing to "work for" the Orioles. If playing professionally in South Korea as a citizen requires some level of education and two years of military service, then from that standpoint, the KBO is within its rights to ban Kim from playing in that league. They can't stop him from playing in the United States, but can certainly hold him to the consequences.

Feb 10, 2012 13:11 PM
 
gregorybfoley

Sure, KBA/ KBO may be within their rights to set rules about who can play in their league and who can watch their games, but you said that "the Orioles went a step too far when they brought in 17-year-old amateur lefty Seong-Min Kim" and that "there is no question that the Orioles overstepped their bounds and were inexplicably negligent in their investigation (or lack thereof) into Kim’s rights as a free agent." I completely disagree with these statements. Just because KBA wants to monopolize all the Korean amateur baseball talent doesn't mean they get to. If MLB agrees not to sign Korean amateur baseball players,it only serves to reduce the earning power of these players and may be illegal under competition clauses of international trade agreements. What's wrong with Seong-Min making a few bucks? Why should we care if the KBA is annoyed that he isn't playing for them? Why shouldn't Duquette sign the best talent he can find?

Feb 10, 2012 14:16 PM
rating: 1
 
gregorybfoley

A similar issue was raised when Christina Kahrl wrote about Junichi Tazawa's signing with the Red Sox: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=8344

Feb 10, 2012 14:46 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

Duquette should absolutely sign the best talent he can find -- and there's a process by which he could have sought permission to sign Kim. Clearly, that did not happen.

Feb 10, 2012 15:04 PM
 
kcboomer

Why is it so difficult for people to understand that not all countries work under the same laws as we do? It doesn't make them wrong, simply different.

Sadly, Kim may be the only real loser here. The O's can probably get off the hook by paying the KBA some kind of fine and agreeing not to use Kim in any capacity. And the KBA may simply then leave Kim on the blacklist even if he gives the money back. And they might do that to send a strong message to other Korean youngsters. That would be a real hardball move.

Feb 10, 2012 10:47 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

It will be interesting to see what, if any, resolution is reached. But I completely agree with your general point -- that the real loser here, whichever way it turns out, is a 17-year-old who just wants to make a living playing baseball, saw an opportunity, and took it.

Feb 10, 2012 13:13 PM
 
tim270

As an O's fan, this is an unfortunate situation, but, frankly, one I'm not that interested in. I'd rather focus on baseball, and I'd LOVE to get some kind of write up on what kind of prospect this kid is.
K Law says he's a 5'9" lefty who throws in the low 80s with no discernible secondaries. Or not a prospect at all. With all due respect to Law, and believeing he could entirely be correct, I'm almost certain Law has never laid eyes on Kim.
The Orioles say he's 5'11 and works in the upper 80s, touching higher, with an excellent feel for offspeed pitches. That sounds like a prospect to me.
Can the Orioles really have been so stupid to give over half a million dollars to some kid that isn't a prospect and is readily available in almost any high school in America? The Orioles are run like crap- I'll be the first to admit it- but this would be a new level of stupidity that I find it hard to believe. Can Law clarify where he's getting his reports?

Feb 10, 2012 16:22 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

While tangential to this article, I would like to clarify a point here that I had first hand experience with - Duquette did not found the Israel Baseball League. He was brought in as an advisor, helping to ensure the infrastructure was up to some standard as well as conducting local tryouts to ensure that each team had a minimal pre-requisite of local players. At the time, I played in the local senior league and was a teammate to a bunch of eventual IBL players. I attended the main tryout.

Towards the end of the event, knowing that I was soon to return to Toronto, I asked Duquette who he would advise someone like me (neglecting to mention what "like me" meant) could break into professional baseball from an administrative capacity.

His response was that I should volunteer in an independent league.

Upon hearing the news that he accepted the position as the new GM of the Baltimore Orioles, I was struck by the thought that he followed his own advise.

Feb 10, 2012 19:44 PM
rating: 3
 
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