It’s posting season, which means some of the brightest stars from the baseball leagues in Japan and Korea are making the transition to Major League Baseball. There are several intriguing names available and any team would be foolish to not check in and make an offer. Generally, the Colorado Rockies have not been very active in that market, but it’s worth looking back on the history of some of the Asian players who came to Colorado and what they managed to accomplish.
Kazuo Matsui (3.9 rWAR)
Near the trade deadline in 2006, the Rockies decided to gamble on a former MVP from the NPO in a trade with the New York Mets. Kazuo Matsui was thought to be the new star shortstop for the Mets when he signed a three-year deal in 2004 to come over to the United States but he struggled defensively and the offense never blossomed. The Mets figured the signing was a wash and moved him to Colorado for aging infielder Eli Marrero.
The change of scenery did wonders for Matsui. He was quickly sent down to Triple-A Colorado Springs where he .278/.328/.391 in 31 games. The Rockies recalled him to the big league roster shortly after where he proceeded to hit a scorching .345/.392/.504 in 32 games. The team managed to re-sign Matsui for 2007 and the rest, as we say, is history.
Matsui turned in one of the best overall years of his career as the Rockies' primary second-baseman en route to their first National League Championship title. He slashed .288/.342/.405 in 104 games and most notably belted a grand slam against the Phillies in the NLDS. For one brief season, Matsui displayed the traits that made him a star in Japan and became a folk hero in Rockies lore.
(For a further discussion about Kaz Matsui, check out the Every Rockie Ever podcast!)
Masato Yoshii (1.1 rWAR)
Once again we find the Rockies and Mets as trade partners. Masato Yoshii was a solid pitcher in the NPO leading the Mets to sign him as a free agent for the 1998 season at the age of 33. He played two years in New York to average results before being traded to the Rockies in 2000 for Bobby Jones.
Yoshii made 29 starts in 2000 for the Rockies, going 6-15 and posting a 5.86 ERA in 167 1⁄3 innings which isn’t too awful considering it was still the pre-humidor days at Coors Field in the midst of the steroid era. Yoshii struggled with walks, issuing 53 free passes compared to 88 strikeouts. He generally had an even 30% split between line drives, ground balls, and fly balls, but was hurt by 32 home runs allowed and a 1.518 WHIP. The Rockies re-signed him for the 2001 season after he had bone spurs removed in September, but then tried to trade him prior to the season. Ultimately, they released him in early March and he went on to have two decent years in Montreal.
Mac Suzuki (-0.6)
I wouldn’t put it against you if you forgot about Mac Suzuki since he pitched a total of 6 1⁄3 innings as a Rockie over three games, including a start. His story is interesting as his parents sent him to the U.S. when he was 16 after he was expelled from school. He worked with a non-affiliated Class-A team in California as a laundry boy before pitching the final game of the season and starting his pro career from there.
In 2001 the Kansas City Royals traded Suzuki and Sal Fasano to the Rockies for Brent Mayne. Suzuki’s short stint with the Rockies was not pretty as he went 0-2 with a 15.63 ERA. He allowed 12 runs on nine hits — three of which were home runs — in his 6 1⁄3 innings of work. He also allowed 11 walks to just five strikeouts in his small sample of work which led the Rockies to put him on waivers where he was snagged by the Milwaukee Brewers. Eventually, he made his way back to the Royals for the 2002 season, the last time he appeared in the big leagues.
Byung-Hyun Kim (1.6 rWAR)
In 2005 the Rockies found a trade partner in the Boston Red Sox. Byung-Hyun Kim had done quite well with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Red Sox through 2003 but injuries in 2004 kept him out for most of the year, leading the Red Sox to trade him away.
In 2005 and 2006, Kim was fairly decent as a primary starter. He struggled out of the bullpen but in 2005 when a spot opened up in the rotation he began to turn things around. Between the two seasons, he had a 5.23 ERA across 303 innings over 67 games, including 49 starts with 244 strikeouts to 132 walks. He was once again relegated to the bullpen in 2007 after losing his rotation spot to Josh Fogg, a move he was not happy with. He claimed he had not been given a fair opportunity to start in spring training and asked to be traded.
He pitched three games in 2007 before heading to Triple-A on a rehab assignment for an injured thumb that he felt was longer than necessary. He hired Scott Boras as his agent to get a trade going faster and in mid-May was traded to the Florida Marlins.
Sun-Woo Kim (0.2 rWAR)
The Rockies decided to claim Sun-Woo Kim off waivers from the brand-new Washington Nationals in August of 2005. He had a strong 2004 season in Montreal but it didn’t translate to the following season with the team move. In 53 1⁄3 innings over 12 games with the Rockies in 2005 he posted a 4.22 ERA, including one start in which he tossed a three-hit shutout at Coors Field.
The following season wasn’t as successful as he pitched to a 19.29 ERA over six relief appearances. He was then traded to the Cincinnati Reds. In total, he played in just 18 games as a Rockie, going 5-1 with a 5.97 ERA over 60 1⁄3 innings with 42 strikeouts and 21 walks.
Seunghwan Oh (0.1 rWAR)
Rockies fans know well that the only significant trade the Rockies made that the 2018 trade deadline was to acquire reliever Seunghwan Oh from the Toronto Blue Jays for a trio of minor leaguers. Oh was effective down the stretch for the Rockies, recording a 2.53 ERA over 21 1⁄3 innings with 24 strikeouts and seven walks as the Rockies made the playoffs.
The following season he pitched to a 9.33 ERA in 21 games out of the bullpen and posted a 1.909 WHIP in 18 1⁄3 innings. He was placed on the injured list with an abdominal strain and was designated for assignment a month later and released exactly one year after they had traded for him.
Chin-hui Tsao (0.1 rWAR)
The first and only Asian amateur free agent signed by the Rockies, Chin-hui Tsao excelled in the minors before making history as the first Taiwanese pitcher to compete in an MLB game in 2003. Unfortunately, his time with the Rockies from 2003-2006 was not successful as he was sidelined by injuries and a commitment to the Chinese Taipei Olympic team in 2004. He was intended to be the closer in 2005 but injuries kept him on the shelf and he lost the entire 2006 season because of injury, which made him a free agent.
Over three seasons played with the Rockies, Tsao had a 5.80 ERA in 63 2⁄3 innings over 29 games. He left the league after 2007 but eventually made a two-year comeback with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 and 2016.
It’s a shame that the Rockies haven’t spent more time in the Asian market, but part of that is the allocation of resources. The team finds it easier to focus on Latin America as opposed to overseas. The talent coming over is only getting better but unfortunately, it’s not likely the team is going to pursue a star pitcher like Kodai Senga last year or Yoshinobu Yamamoto this year. Still, it’d be nice if they entertained that free-agent market a bit more.
It’s not Rockies related but it is baseball related. On Tuesday morning the Pioneer Baseball League announced a new expansion team coming to Oakland in 2024. A group of Oakland-area fans, investors, and community leaders combined forces to create the Oakland Ballers, a new independent team to prove that Oakland is worthy of a professional sports team. It’s no mystery Oakland fans are angry about the Athletics’ move to Las Vegas, so they are branding this as a way to steal baseball back for the city of Oakland. Just check out their hype video below.
Introducing a new team for The Town— Oakland Ballers (@OaklandBallers) November 28, 2023
The Oakland Ballers ⚾️
Our team was ripped away from us. Now we’re stealing baseball for the people of Oakland.
Built by Oakland. For Oakland. Forever Oakland.#OaklandBallers pic.twitter.com/E8Wu4dNve9
The draft lottery takes place next week and the Rockies have a top shot at the number one pick for 2024. Jonathan Mayo gives a breakdown primer for what to expect and how the field looks for each team heading into the lottery.
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