In February, Hanwha’s Arizona camp attracted the attention of the players when an unexpected visitor showed up. As news of the players’ visit spread, even Hanwha pitchers who had finished practice took their cell phones back to the field and began recording their pitches.
Among them were two-time Major League Baseball Cy Young Award winners Zack Greinke (40, Kansas City) and Dallas Keuchel (35, Minnesota). Major League spring training usually starts in mid-February. Unlike their KBO counterparts, who start camp on February 1 and have about a month to work on their skills and fitness, Major League Baseball players are already in shape before camp starts, so they can get a full week of workouts under their belts before jumping right into a schedule of exhibition games.
Greinke and Keikle were also in the process of getting in shape at a private training center in Arizona before starting spring training. It just so happened that they were traveling at the same time as the Hanwha players. The Hanwha players were on their phones for a reason. They weren’t in their prime, but their careers were incredible.
Not to mention Greinke, who surpassed 200 wins in his major league career, Kikle also had an incredible career. After making his major league debut with Houston in 2012, Keichle won his first double-digit game in 2014 (12), and in 2015, he went 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA in 33 games and 232 innings pitched, winning the American League Cy Young Award and finishing fifth in MVP voting.
With 14 wins in 2017 and 12 wins in 2015, Kikle’s reign as a top-tier pitcher has earned him some respect in free agency, as he signed a three-year, $55.5 million deal with the Chicago White Sox ahead of the 2020 season. While he wasn’t as valuable as he was when he won the Cy Young Award, he still proved to be a capable enough pitcher to make the starting rotation. He hit free agency around the same time as Ryu Hyun-jin (36, Toronto) ahead of the 2020 season, and was on our radar.
However, the road has been rocky since then. After a strong 2020 season, which was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he began a distinct downward spiral in 2021. In 32 games in 2021, he went 9-9 with a 5.28 ERA. It was not a career-best performance. After failing to rebound in 2022, the White Sox released him, even though he still had years left on his contract.
After being released, he signed with Arizona, but was released again after struggling, and then signed with Texas, but struggled there as well, and now the team he was looking for is gone. His overall record in 2022 was 2-9 with a 9.20 ERA in 14 games, making him a complete bust. By the time the Hanwha players saw him, Kaikle was without a team and waiting for other teams to contact him.
Keikle’s “invincibility” lasted quite a while. It wasn’t until June that he signed a minor league contract with Minnesota. He was immediately called up to the major leagues and had a chance to turn things around, but it was just barely. As of July 13, he is 1-1 with a 4.78 ERA in six games (five starts).
His pitches aren’t what they used to be. Never a prodigious fastball pitcher, but one who thrived on a mix of offspeed pitches, command, and extraordinary ball movement, Keichle has been on a steep decline. Even this year, he’s striking out just 4.8 batters per nine innings. “I’ve become a hit-and-run pitcher, so I have a lot of ups and downs from game to game. On days when he has good pitches and a little bit of luck, he’s good, but on days when he doesn’t, he struggles.
Ryu Hyun-jin, who also signed as a free agent around the same time, had a down year in 2021 after finishing third in the 2020 Cy Young Award voting. In 2022, he underwent devastating elbow surgery. However, since his return this year, he has been on fire. He is 3-3 with a 2.93 ERA in eight starts, including his first quality start (six or more innings and three or fewer earned runs) since returning on April 13 against Texas.안전놀이터
These are two players who will be eligible for free agency after this season. They have a lot in common: they’re both veteran lefties with storied careers, and they don’t rely on strikes. However, while Ryu is almost certain to receive a guaranteed major league contract, Kikle is not yet at that level. One more misstep and he could find himself back in the minor leagues. It will be interesting to see how these two players, who are similar in age and potentially similar in utility, are treated in free agency.