Spring Training: Kim no guarantee for bullpen
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Byung-Hyun Kim is signed and sealed, but by no means is he a lock for the Pirates' bullpen.
Kim's contract, which he signed yesterday, calls for an $850,000 salary and a maximum $1 million in performance bonuses, but is not guaranteed. That means he can be cut during spring training and owed only a fraction of his salary. And that, in turn, means the team surely will keep him only if he can show in the coming weeks that he is worth the investment.
Major League Baseball's rules for non-guaranteed contracts stipulate a team that cuts a player by March 12 owes him 30 days of termination pay, or one-sixth of his salary. If the player is cut by March 26, he is owed 45 days of pay, or a quarter of his salary. In Kim's case, those termination payouts would be slightly higher, as per the terms the Pirates negotiated with his agent, Scott Boras.
All of which might explain why general manager Neal Huntington was stressing yesterday that Kim will not be handed one of the four official openings in the bullpen.
"He still has to make our club," Huntington said. "We're not promising him anything. But he does add another quality arm to our mix."
Kim and the Pirates agreed to the salary and bonuses Wednesday, but the termination pay -- as well as Boras' involvement in Oliver Perez's arbitration hearing with the New York Mets -- likely prevented a deal from being done until yesterday morning. That was too late to have Kim suit up with the team, but he reported later in the afternoon and trained alone, throwing balls against a screen in the batting cage.
Asked how he felt about joining the Pirates, Kim, a native South Korean, replied in very halting English, "I'm happy to be here. It's a good chance for me, I think."
And of the challenge he faces to make the team: "I don't know. That is for them to decide."
Kim, 29, once was a lights-out reliever, including 86 saves as a closer in 1999-2003, and was particularly tough on right-handed batters with that trademark submarine delivery. But he converted to starting in 2005 with the Colorado Rockies, and that went poorly. His ERA in 71 starts in that span was 5.29, and his sporadic relief work suffered, too, with a 7.76 ERA in 24 appearances.
"When he was a reliever, he was one of the better relievers in the game," Huntington said. "His desire at the time was to start. Our belief, now that he is committed to going back to the bullpen is that he can provide a strong veteran presence."
"I like to start," Kim said. "But I'll do what they tell me."
He could become the Pirates' right-handed setup man, Huntington added, but only if he shows he can retire batters from both sides. Right-handers batted .242 against him last season, left-handers .316.
Kim's overall numbers last season with the Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Florida Marlins: 10-8 with a 6.08 ERA.
The Pirates' only bullpen certainties are closer Matt Capps and left-handers John Grabow and Damaso Marte being locks. Sinkerballer Franquelis Osoria, who was Class AAA Indianapolis' closer last season, is a good bet to take one job, but the rest -- Kim included -- appear wide open.
One of the Pirates' stated priorities is to have diverse styles and arm angles. That could help Kim because of his motion. Power is another, and that could help Hector Carrasco, T.J. Beam and Rule 5 draft pick Evan Meek. If starting experience is sought in a long man, Jaret Wright will merit consideration, if healthy.
To clear space on the 40-man roster for Kim, the Pirates designated infielder Ray Olmedo for assignment.
Olmedo, 26, will be placed on waivers and, if he clears after 48 hours, the Pirates' plan is to outright him to the minor leagues and keep him in camp as a non-roster player. But, because Olmedo's outright would be the second of his career, he will have the option of declaring free agency.
He was supposed to compete for a reserve infielder job with another waiver claim, Mt. Lebanon's Josh Wilson, but, another player might be working his way into that mix. Luis Rivas, 28, who spent last season in the Cleveland Indians' system, has impressed management with his dynamic glove work in early drills.
First Published February 25, 2008 12:00 am