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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Why the Cardinals Should Try to Extend Seung-hwan Oh’s Contract

Many watchers of the St. Louis Cardinals expect the club to approach Carlos Martinez and his representatives before the start of the 2017 season in an attempt to secure a long-term contract covering the club’s young ace’s arbitration years and perhaps longer. This makes a lot of sense to me.

Elsewhere in baseball, three top closers currently on the free agent market are expected to cash in this winter with major multi-year deals as well. Of course, I am referring to Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon.

oh-p-usa-200The intersection of these two situations leads me to consider a much-less discussed contract extension opportunity for the Cardinals – closer Seung-hwan Oh. With just one year remaining on his initial two-year deal, it seems the club should also be trying to extend Oh’s contract beyond the 2017 season.

The 34-year-old from Korea, with 357 saves over 11 seasons in his homeland and in Japan, originally signed with St. Louis in a projected role to set up Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal. That script changed with Rosenthal’s struggles with injury and ineffectiveness, leading to his removal from ninth-inning duties at the end of June.

Since joining St. Louis, Oh has put up numbers that look very good alongside the elite closers in Major League Baseball. In his 76 games, seventh-most among NL pitchers, he logged a 1.92 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, six wins in nine decisions, 19 saves in 23 opportunities and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

In direct comparison, Oh’s 2016 bWAR of 2.8 was equivalent to Melancon’s and greater than both Chapman’s and Jansen’s (2.5 each).

With the increased pressure and scrutiny that comes with the closer’s responsibility, Oh continued to perform well. Over the remainder of the season since taking over from Rosenthal – Oh’s first save was on July 2nd – his ERA was 2.27. His WHIP was 0.96 and his strikeout rate held strong at 11.3 per nine.

Where would the 2016 Cardinals have finished had Oh not been ready to seamlessly take over for Rosenthal? I think this is one of the most overlooked and under-rated factors in St. Louis being able to remain in the Wild Card race until the very end.

On the other hand, looking forward, one has to be realistic.

Oh’s high mileage, advancing age and shorter MLB track record would make a direct comp inappropriate with the deals the trio of free agents should receive this winter. However, with another strong season in 2017, Oh could look to make what may be his last chance at a big payday as a free agent next winter.

Because of these factors, this seems like a good time to try to extend the relationship – when some risk remains on both sides of the bargaining table.

Though investing significantly in closers has not been part of St. Louis’ master plan to date, perhaps that should change. In fact, some segments of the fan base and media would like to see them go after one of the three elite closers currently available.

It seems to me the Cardinals should first try to lock down the elite closer they already have.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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13 Responses to “Why the Cardinals Should Try to Extend Seung-hwan Oh’s Contract”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Awful newspaper columnists and GM wannabe fans giving you inspiration for blog posts must really feel like Thanksgiving. 😉

  2. crdswmn says:

    I have a question regarding Oh’s free agent status. Did you confirm with the Cardinals that Oh is in fact a FA in 2017? If so, did you get an explanation of how his status differs from that of Aledmys Diaz? Are there differing rules with regard to Asian players signing as international FAs? I am curious because Baseball Reference lists Oh as being a free agent in 2022.

    • crdswmn says:

      I did a little google searching and did find one reference to different rules for free agents signing with an MLB team as a 10 year FA from the NPB. I assume that is the explanation. Can you confirm?

    • Brian Walton says:

      A player has the right to negotiate early free agency rights into his contract. We have seen that with some of the Cuban imports, most notably Yoenis Cespedes.

      Diaz’ contract did not give him an exemption. Whether it is the 10-year rule you mention or Oh’s agent negotiated it for him, I do not know, but the bottom line is what matters. I confirmed with a Major League source that Oh’s contract enables him to become a free agent at its conclusion. Otherwise, I would not have posted this article! 😉

      • crdswmn says:

        Ah, well Cot’s was the first place I looked and nothing like that was mentioned. I read a Wikipedia article that said players who sign with an MLB team as a 10 year free agent from the NPB are exempt from the regular service time rules concerning arbitration and free agency. Since it was an wikidpedia article, I didn’t want to rely on it, which is why I asked if you could confirm.

        I guess I could go to the CBA and see if there is anything in the CBA that supports what is in the Wikipedia article. I am curious if that is actually true about the exemption.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Please do share what you find out. Also, you may need to clarify whether it is 10 years in NPB or 10 years anywhere. As you probably know, Oh only played for two years in Japan.

          • crdswmn says:

            I did a quick scan of the CBA and found nothing. Perhaps it is hidden in a chapter where I would not think to look.

            The Wikipedia article says this as bullet point (2) on ways to become a free agent with less than 6 years of service time:

            (2) His contract has expired with less than six years of service time, but the player first signed with a Major League Baseball team as a 10-year free agent from the Japanese major leagues (NPB).

            Does that mean 10 years with NPB or 10 years coming from NPB but not necessarily in the NPB for all 10 years? Perhaps it is the former, and you are right, he didn’t meet that requirement so negotiated an out in his contract.

            In any event, if he had the out in his contract, that explains it. I wonder if Cot’s just didn’t get that information? They had the outs in Cespedes’ contract listed, so it may be they just managed to get details from Oakland that they didn’t get from the Cardinals re Oh’s contract.

            • Brian Walton says:

              I cannot speak to what Cot’s knows and how they get their information. In the case of Cespedes, the out was widely reported in the media from the moment he signed, as I recall. Lower profile signings like Diaz and Oh receive less focus.

              I did go there to check what they say about Oh and I noticed they do not list the details of his contract incentives. That leads me to suspect they may not have direct access to the contracts. Perhaps not unlike me, they would have to ask the specific question to get the specific answer on exception cases. Dunno.

              • crdswmn says:

                I imagine you are right, that they publish what is publicly available or reported by the media.

                I would like to know the answer to the NPB exemption but I looked at the chapter on arbitration, the chapter on free agency, and the chapter on service time and saw nothing. I even scanned the UPC but found nothing there either. The wikipedia article does not have a citation to the statement, so I have no clue if it is correct or not.

                I get asked a lot of rules questions by the VEB folks, as most of them are clueless about baseball business rules. (They are stat nerds, they don’t bother with mundane things like rules). They know I am knowledgeable, so they ask me. I haven’t been asked about Oh’s contract status yet.

  3. jj-cf-stl says:

    2 years at the most. with cecil knocking down more than I expected i’m not even sure what Oh could get.
    2/20mil? is that even ballpark?

  4. Brian Walton says:

    “According to Oh’s agent, #Cardinals in recent days have expressed a willingness to extend his contract.”

    https://twitter.com/hanshoong/status/811757823243603968

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