Despite winning 10 games this season, Kim Byung-hyun of the Florida Marlins suffered being designated for assignment in August. Reuters- / Yonhap
By Kang Seung-woo
Getting designated for assignment seemed unlikely for South Korean Major Leaguers last year.
But now it has become kind of routine with five players suffering it during this season.
There was even a time midway through August when no Koreans stuck with their big league teams.
In short, this season was the worst that Korean Major Leaguers have had since Park Chan-ho made his big league debut in the United States more than a decade ago.
Park, the first Korean export to the U.S. Major Leagues, had a nightmare all through this season, which has made many fans think he is behind his prime. Out of his lucrative $65-million free agent deal with the Texas Rangers, the 34-year-old right-hander signed with the New York Mets expecting to take a spot in the rotation.
But his reckless spring training pitching robbed him of his chance, demoting him to the minors. During his short tenure in the Big Apple, the 113-game winner had one big league outing in which he allowed seven runs on six hits in four innings.
In June, Park found his second nest with the sinking Houston Astros. However, his chronic command problems left him on the Round Rock Express, Houston's minor league affiliate, where he has compiled a 2-10 record with a 6.21 ERA.
Seo Jae-weong of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays also finished the season much worse than expected. He began the season as the No. 2 man in the Devil Rays' rotation. But in his first 11 games, he was 3-4 and his ERA frustratingly rose to 8.13.
On June 2, patience-exhausted Tampa Bay designated Seo, who has also pitched for the Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, for assignment. The helpless right-handed hurler opted to play in the minor leagues for the Durham Bulls.
As for Korea's lone remaining big leaguer, Kim Byung-hyun of the Florida Marlins, he changed uniforms four times this year - playing for the Colorado Rockies, the Marlins, the Arizona Diamondbacks and again the Marlins.
On Aug. 4, Arizona claimed him off waivers. But after only two lackadaisical outings, the club cut its former World Series member. After that, the 28-year-old submariner rejoined Florida, where he liked the clubhouse atmosphere, but his frequent moving to different clubs is an indication he is not a lock to remain on a Major League team.
To make matters worse, young Korean prospects joined veterans' recessions.
Korea's second baseman Choo Shin-soo did not live up to expectations. With an elbow injury dragging him down through the season, he only stepped to the plate 17 times and had five hits.
Tampa Bay's Ryu Jae-kuk, who became a fulltime Major Leaguer for the first time, failed to impress his team, notching a 1-2 record with a 7.33 ERA.
But while the calamity hit the Koreans, silver linings were found among those disappointments.
Kim captured 10 wins during the year to become one of only two Korean hurlers who reached a double-digit win total in a Major League season. The other is Park, who did it every year from 1997 to 2001 and again in 2005.
Devil Rays castoff Seo went 9-4 with a 3.69 ERA in Triple-A to help his team to win the International League. He also started in the Championship Series and allowed one run over seven innings, which could appeal to several big league teams that lack starters.