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Orioles agree to three-year deal with South Korean RHP Suk-min Yoon

SARASOTA, Fla. -- On the eve of the first workout for pitchers and catchers this spring, the Orioles once again traveled an international route Thursday in an attempt to improve their pitching staff, agreeing to terms with South Korean right-handed pitcher Suk-min Yoon on a three-year deal, according to an industry source.

The Orioles’ agreement with the 27-year-old is worth $5.575 million guaranteed over the three years and is pending a club physical, the source said. The Orioles have not officially announced the deal.

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has made his intent to improve the starting rotation well known, but the club fell short in their pursuit of free-agent veteran right-handers Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett over the past week.

Duquette wouldn’t comment on any deal with Yoon, but indicated Thursday that he is still looking to upgrade the team’s pitching staff, even after the addition of Yoon.

“We’re still trying to sign a couple of pitchers to bolster our staff,” Duquette said. “Getting a couple more pitchers will improve our depth so that we can go into spring training with a good group and go from there.”

The Orioles have shown interest in the top two remaining free-agent starting pitchers, right-handers Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, but both players would cost the club its first-round pick in this year’s draft and would likely require deals of three years or more.

The Orioles have aggressively pursued international signings under Duquette, who has signed Taiwanese left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada and Cuban outfielders Henry Urrutia and Dariel Alvarez. The club has also signed international free agents out of Guatemala, New Zealand and Brazil in recent years.

Last year, South Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu made the transition to the major leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He finished fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting after going 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA in 30 starts. Yoon has been regarded as the second-best pitcher in South Korea behind Ryu.

Yoon’s deal has a cost-efficient base salary that could escalate if he pitches well.

According to an industry source, Yoon will receive a $675,000 signing bonus and $750,000 in base salary in 2014. He will make $1.75 million in 2015 and $2.4 million in 2016. The deal also includes performance bonuses based on games started that could push the total value of the deal to $13 million.

At this time, it’s uncertain if Yoon’s future will be as a starter or a reliever with the Orioles, but he would likely slide into the competition for the rotation through the opening weeks of spring training. He could then transition his preparation for a relief role in mid-March, if needed.

According to a club source, Yoon (whose first name is pronounced SEOK-min) was en route to Sarasota on Thursday night to take his physical. After his physical, Yoon must still obtain a work visa back home in South Korea, which could take two to four weeks to process, before he can officially join the Orioles and begin working out with the club.

On Tuesday night, Yoon tweeted a photo of himself wearing an Orioles hat, fueling speculation that he had signed with the club.

Regarded as one of the top pitchers in South Korea, Yoon spent the past nine seasons pitching for the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization.

Last season, he worked as a starter and reliever as he battled a shoulder injury. He was 3-6 with a 4.00 ERA and seven saves. He won the KBO Most Valuable Player award in 2011, when he was 17-5 with a 2.45 ERA.

Yoon is represented by agent Scott Boras. When dealing with the Orioles in negotiations involving one of his players, Boras has a physician conduct an independent physical exam of the player and has the results submitted to the club prior to any contract discussion.

In this case, the Orioles reviewed Yoon’s medical records, according to a source, and were pleased with what they saw.

The Orioles have come under scrutiny this offseason after two deals fell through following concerns over a physical.

In December, the Orioles agreed to terms to a two-year, $15 million deal, but the club became concerned after his physical that Balfour wouldn’t be able to remain healthy over the length of his deal. Balfour eventually signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.

The club also had a deal with outfielder Tyler Colvin that never came to fruition following a physical. Colvin remains a free agent.

CBSSports.com first reported the deal with Yoon, and a source previously said a different number for the total guaranteed money in the agreement.

eencina@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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