M’s Expected To Sign Hong-Chih Kuo

Dave · February 6, 2012 at 8:01 am · Filed Under Mariners 

According to Jayson Stark, other teams that have expressed interest in signing LH reliever Hong-Chih Kuo have been notified that he’s joining the Mariners instead. The M’s are usually pretty slow to announce stuff like this – Jack Z talked about Kevin Millwood as part of the rotation plans on the Montero-Pineda conference call, even though that signing wasn’t announced until the next day – but I’d expect this to become official at some point in the next few days. It will almost certainly be a minor league contract with an invite to spring training and a bunch of incentives tied to innings pitched if he makes the big league roster.

In terms of what he could provide, no one’s a bigger question mark in the sport. In 2010, he was probably the best reliever in baseball – last year, he was one of the worst. He has a long history of arm problems, including having Tommy John surgery twice, and again lost his ability to throw strikes during the first half of last season – he had initially missed three months in the 2009 season with the same inability to throw the ball over the plate. On May 11th of last year, he was placed on the DL with “anxiety disorder”, and during one rehab stint in Arizona, he “once misfired a pitch during a bullpen session and hit a trainer in the neck. The trainer was walking across an adjacent practice field.”

He showed signs of overcoming the issues during the second half of last season, however, and during the final two months of the season, he only walked seven batters in 14 innings – a big improvement over the 16 walks in 13 innings in the first four months of the year. That would be encouraging, except there’s also the small matter of his velocity disappearing down the stretch. In 2010, Kuo regularly sat at 95 and reached the upper-90s with his fastball, but he ended the year topping out at 93. If he figured out how to throw strikes by simply throwing the ball softer, that might not be as positive as if he regained his prior form.

So, you name the red flag and it’s probably raised with Kuo. He’s forgotten how to throw strikes twice. He’s had five surgeries, including major arm problems twice. His velocity was down at the end of the year. Of course, there’s also the upside – he’s come back from the yips before, he finished the year without any reported arm problems, and there’s that 2010 season that is pretty tantalizing sitting on his resume.

If Kuo comes to camp throwing 95 and putting the ball over the plate, he’ll make this team, and could potentially be the best reliever in the bullpen. If he’s throwing 92 or hitting trainers on other fields, then the M’s will likely have just agreed to pick up the tab for further rehab of a pitcher who isn’t quite right. It could easily go either way, or be a mixture of both. Kuo might be worthless, or he might be amazing. Good luck trying to figure out which result the team should expect.

But, this is why NRIs were invented. The M’s basically just bought a lottery ticket, and if it pays off, they’ll come out with a greatly improved bullpen. If it doesn’t, well, it didn’t really cost them much to begin with.

Update: Dylan Hernandez reports that the deal is done, but is actually a one year Major League contract. So, Kuo will go right on the 40 man roster, and unless he implodes in spring training, he’s going to make the club.


16 Responses to “M’s Expected To Sign Hong-Chih Kuo”

  1. robbbbbb on February 6th, 2012 8:36 am

    “In addition he hit the sportswriter, the public address announcer, the bull mascot twice…”

    “Also new league records.”

  2. miscreant on February 6th, 2012 8:54 am

    Kuo seems to have Brett Saberhagen disease. He has a good year then an off year. Looks like he’s due for a good year. When he’s a K machine.

    If he does good I’d expect Jack Z to trade him at the deadline for a prospect.

  3. ndevale on February 6th, 2012 9:09 am

    Dylan Hernandez says it’s done, and that it’s a major league contract.

  4. MrZDevotee on February 6th, 2012 9:27 am

    “Kuo might be worthless, or he might be amazing.”

    Hey! That’s the M’s motto this year, seems like a match made in heaven…

    (I know there’s “tennis elbow” and Carpul Tunnel Syndrome, but is there a name for straining your fingers from crossing them too hard?)

  5. lailaihei on February 6th, 2012 9:28 am

    I’ve been a big fan of Kuo for a while. He’s come back from elbow injury multiple times and always dominated when not being hit with anxiety attacks and the like. If he returns to 90% of 2010 form (no reason to think it’s impossible), he could be trade chip at the deadline.

  6. MrZDevotee on February 6th, 2012 9:33 am

    Done deal, reported by multiple places– major league deal, so someone is vacating the 40 man soon.

    And more seriously, I like this signing a lot. He’s dominant when healthy, so worth the low risk here. With “best reliever in baseball” upside– why not?!?

  7. Badbadger on February 6th, 2012 10:07 am

    >I know there’s “tennis elbow” and Carpul Tunnel Syndrome, but is there a name for straining your fingers from crossing them too hard?<

    Mariner fingers.

  8. kennyb on February 6th, 2012 10:23 am

    Not a fan of this as a major league deal. If they had stuck to the pattern of signing these type of players to a minor league deal I would be all for it, but on a major league deal where we now have to clear a spot on the 40 man, not such a big fan.

    I’m sure it isn’t a ton of money, but why do this on major league deal. They have a guy in Millwood who they think will be in the rotation this year and he is on a minor league deal. Kuo is far from a sure thing based on the problems he had last year.

  9. Jordan on February 6th, 2012 11:03 am

    Although I agree he shouldn’t get more than an NRI, there’s still a host of players on the pile that don’t need to be there.

    Players like C. Jimenez, M. Wilson, C. Peguero, M. Saunders etc; at this point they are not more than a 26th man. It just depends on who the Mariners should give up on, the most replaceable skill set or who is least likely to turn into a MLB regular. This is a good year to take multiple flyers and see what sticks. As others have said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mariners got a reasonably useful prospect back at the deadline.

  10. Into the Unknown on February 6th, 2012 11:05 am

    ML deal because there were other teams that wanted him. Think of it as outbidding the competition.

    Dont worry about losing someone on the 40, to get Guillen, Kawasaki or Millwood on the roster the M’s would have to do the same thing.

  11. Paul B on February 6th, 2012 11:10 am

    Probably one of those guys could clear waivers or whatever and get signed back to a minor league deal, not going to be a lot of teams lining up to get a Mike Wilson (a 28 year old AAAA outfielder).

  12. Mariners35 on February 6th, 2012 11:11 am

    Does this deal speak to how fungible and easily found most bullpen arms are? Or just how weak the pile is and thus most of the pile need more work in AAA? That a fella with this much variance makes the 40 man right away suggests a bit of both.

  13. Steve Nelson on February 6th, 2012 11:22 am

    He goes on the 40-man roster, but not necessarily the 25-man roster. The contract appears to be a split contract, where he earns a base salary when he’s in Tacoma, but gets a salary increase whenever he’s on the 25-man roster.

  14. marinerjim11 on February 6th, 2012 11:33 am

    I like the signing he should benefit the bullpen and if he has a good year the Mariners could always deal him at the deadline and get something back.

  15. Madison Mariner on February 6th, 2012 7:41 pm

    “He goes on the 40-man roster, but not necessarily the 25-man roster. The contract appears to be a split contract, where he earns a base salary when he’s in Tacoma, but gets a salary increase whenever he’s on the 25-man roster.”

    I think he has to be on the 25-man roster as well, Steve, since he’s out of options Heck, he was out of options at this time last year, even, according to this post:


    Why give him a split MLB contract between the majors and minors if they can’t even option him to the minors at the beginning of the season?

    And yes, they could outright him, but wouldn’t some time just claim him then, which would make the whole “What a steal” scenario…i.e. that we got him and not someone else…moot, basically.

    Maybe he’s not out of options, but I think I saw on another site that he was out of options as well, so I’m leaning toward that being true.

  16. Madison Mariner on February 6th, 2012 7:49 pm

    In my above post:

    “…but wouldn’t some time just claim him then”

    should obviously read:

    “…but wouldn’t some team just claim him then”

    Doh! Stupid editing time limit that I missed! 😉

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