South Korean Teams Sign Eric Thames and Jorge Cantu

mykbo.net reports that the Doosan Bears have signed Jorge Cantu and the NC Dinos have signed Eric Thames.  This is news mainly because they’ll be the first foreign position players to play in the KBO since the 2011 season.

KBO teams are allowed only two foreign players (three for the expansion NC Dinos), and they usually elect to sign pitchers to fill the limited number of roster spots. I’m not sure why that is, at least other than the obvious reason that KBO teams are simply more willing to shell out the higher salaries foreign players make for pitching than they are for hitting.

KBO salaries are on the rise, and the league has become better at snagging the kind of 4-A players who could only hope to sign with a Japanese NPB team in the past.  These foreign players, mostly pitchers, have had varying degrees of success, depending on their individual abilities to adjust to South Korean baseball and living in South Korea.

At any rate, both Cantu and Thames look like good signings for their new respective KBO teams.  Cantu has a substantial major league career, having hit 28 home runs for the Tampa Rays in 2005 and 29 home runs for the Miami Marlins in 2008.  However, Cantu’s major drawback is that he draws very few walks.  Also, while he played a lot at second and third in the majors, his defense at these positions was pretty poor.

Cantu last played in the majors in 2011.  He hit fairly well at AAA Salt Lake City at the beginning of the 2012 season (.788 OPS) but he was released at the end of April and no other major organization picked him up.

In 2013, he played in the Mexican League, where he really pounded the ball, slugging 31 HRs in only 300 at-bats.  He also walked more than at any other time in his career, giving him a .368 on-base percentage despite batting only .270.

It’s clearly his power the Doosan Bears are hoping Cantu will bring to South Korea.  He turns 32 in late January.

A couple of seasons ago, Eric Thames looked like he’d have a reasonably successful major league career.  As a 24 year old rookie for the 2011 Blue Jays he hit .262/.313/.456 in 394 plate appearances.

Thames fell off somewhat in 2012, batting .232/.273/.399 in 290 plate appearances roughly split between the Blue Jays and the Mariners.  Like Cantu, Thames doesn’t walk much but definitely has power.

Thames started the 2013 season at AAA Tacoma in the Pacific Coast League and hit fairly well (.295 batting average, .861 OPS).  Half way through the season, the M’s traded him to the Orioles, and, apparently battling injuries, he didn’t hit well for the AAA Norfolk Tides (.252 batting average, .671 OPS).

The O’s put Thames on waivers in early September when the AAA season ended.  The Astros claimed him but didn’t bring him to Houston for the last month of the season.

While Thames has only just turned 27 and still has a reasonable shot at a future major league career, he has apparently decided his best career prospects lie in Asia.  Certainly, if he can get off to a good start in the KBO next season, he could eventually work his way up to Japan’s NPB and make some real money, the way Tyrone Woods did starting in the late 1990’s.

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5 Comments on “South Korean Teams Sign Eric Thames and Jorge Cantu”

  1. Burly Says:

    Early reports say Jorge Cantu signed with the Doosan Bears for $600,000, half of which was a signing bonus, and that if Cantu achieves all performance bonuses, he could make more than $1 million in 2014. That’s a pretty nice raise when you consider he probably made no more than $30,000 playing in the Mexican League this past season.

  2. Burly Says:

    The Hanwha Eagles are reportedly close to signing outfielder Felix Pie. Pie played briefly (and poorly) for the Pirates in 2013 after dropping out of the majors in 2011. He didn’t play particularly well at AAA Indianapolis this year (.251 batting average, .715 OPS), but he can probably play center field for the Eagles, which increases his value.

  3. Burly Says:

    The KBO just officially approved an increase in the number of foreign players from two per team to three (and four for the expansion NC Dinos). One of the three must be position player, explaining the sudden rush to sign position players after none played in the KBO in 2012 or 2013.

    Obviously, allowing a 50% increase in foreign players cannot help but improve the KBO’s level of play. Let’s hope South Korean baseball fans appreciate that fact and attend KBO games in greater numbers.

  4. Burly Says:

    Three more position players have signed with KBO teams: Vinnie Rottino, Luis Jimenez and Brock Peterson.

    Rottino will be 34 in 2014. He played 37 games in Japan’s NPB last year but didn’t play well, batting .206 with a .678 OPS. Looks to be getting old, but you never know…

    Luis Jimenez (age 32) played briefly for the Mariners in 2012, and briefly in NPB in 2009 where he put up numbers very similar to Vinny Rottino last year. Jimenez hit well in both AAA leagues in 2012 and 2013. Looks to me like a better bet than Rottino.

    Brock Peterson (30) spent a year and half in the independent A Atlantic League in 2011 and 2012, which got him back into AAA ball. He had an .895 OPS for Memphis in 2013 and earned two cups of coffee with the Cardinals for whom he did absolutely nothing (two singles and two walks in 28 plate appearances with 11 strikeouts).

    • Burly Says:

      Turns out report that Brock Peterson would sign with KBO was incorrect. He just signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals.


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