Why Japan is so interested in ‘Goh’s imminent move to ML’

“Ohtani’s intentional remarks scandalized”

“Ko Woo-seok, 26, is reportedly close to signing with the San Diego Padres. He raised eyebrows when he said he would throw a high-pitched pitch to Shohei Ohtani (30, Los Angeles Dodgers).”

The Japanese media has been paying close attention to Ko’s quest for the major leagues. There are two main reasons. The first is that he was the one who said he would throw an intentional pitch to Ohtani in an interview before the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March last year, and the second is the recent signing of Japanese closer Yuki Matsui, 29, to San Diego, a team that is said to be his destination. Matsui signed a five-year, $28 million free-agent contract with the Padres, while Koo is trying to make it to the big leagues in the postseason with a posting system, though the exact size of the deal was not disclosed.

John Heyman of the New York Post reported on Wednesday that “South Korean right-hander Woo-seok Ko appears to be close to signing with San Diego. He is expected to become San Diego’s closer,” and the rumor mill was abuzz. Heyman is a well-known major league source. The news of the impending signing came just as Ko’s post ended at 7 a.m. KST on April 4, with no mention of a specific destination.

The LG Twins organization immediately acknowledged that Ko had received an offer from a major league team. LG issued a press release on the same day, saying, “Go Woo-seok recently received an offer from a major league team in accordance with the posting procedure, and LG decided to respect the player’s wishes and send the offer to the major league team that sent the offer. Accordingly, Go Woo-seok departed for the United States for the contract process, including a three-day medical test.

Even after Heyman’s report, there was a question mark over whether Go would be able to finalize a deal with San Diego. That’s because LG put the nail in the coffin when they accepted his offer, saying, “We won’t let him go cheap.” The American media assumed that the young hard-throwing pitcher would get a three-year, $24 million deal, but that wasn’t the case. San Diego’s offer to Ko was reportedly far below expectations. LG reportedly had a hard time deciding after hearing the offer from the team. Go Woo-seok expressed his desire to play for his dream team, and the LG team gave him a chance.

Japanese sports media outlet Daily Sports reported the above, saying, “In his seven years with LG, Go Woo-seok appeared in 354 games as a relief pitcher, compiling a 19-26 record, 139 saves and a 3.18 ERA. From his third year, he contributed to the team as a consistent closer. In the 2019 and 2022 seasons, he posted a one-run ERA, and this season, he appeared in 44 games with a 3-8 record, 15 saves, and a 3.89 ERA,” the report said.

“Ko played for South Korea at the WBC in March last year, where he sparked controversy when he said he would throw a high-pitched pitch at Ohtani before their first-round game against Japan.

Japanese media reported at the time that “Koo Woo-seok said in an interview with the Korean media, ‘If there is no place to throw to Ohtani, I will throw to a place where it doesn’t hurt,’ which caused an intentional pitching scandal,” which angered Japanese baseball fans. Not only is Ohtani a two-hit wonder who has taken the Major Leagues by storm, but he is also a sanctuary in Japanese baseball. In fact, during the WBC, when Korean reporters conducted separate interviews with Go Woo-seok in Japan, many Japanese reporters were present and showed interest. With the exception of Lee Jung-hoo, who was a major Korean player that the Major League Baseball office was interested in, the Japanese media’s enthusiasm for Go Woo-seok was quite unusual.

After playing for the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani became a free agent this winter and signed a massive 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers. The Dodgers and San Diego are in the same National League West division, so they’ll be facing each other often. If a game between the Dodgers and San Diego is scheduled and Ko is on the mound, the Japanese media will likely continue to mention the “intentional remark”.

The Daily Sports also reported, “San Diego is without a closer after losing Josh Hader to free agency after last season. Heyman reported that Ko is likely to be the closer, while Roberto Suarez and Matsui, who previously played for the Hanshin Tigers, have been mentioned as possible candidates for the job. It’s possible that the San Diego closer battle could turn into a battle of pride between Korean and Japanese baseball.

Ko Woo-seok joined LG as a first-round pick in 2017 after graduating from Chung-Ang High School, where he built a career as a hard-throwing bullpen arm. As a 21-year-old in 2019, he quickly established himself as LG’s back-of-the-rotation closer for more than a decade with 8 wins, 35 saves, 1 hold, 71 innings pitched, and a 1.52 ERA in 65 games. In seven seasons and 354 appearances, he has 19 wins, 139 saves, six holds, 368⅓ innings, 401 strikeouts, and a 3.18 ERA. In 2022, he led the league in saves with a career-high 42, and even in a down year, he threw a fastball that topped 150 kilometers per hour and helped LG win its first division title in 29 years, since 1994.

The American media touted Go Woo-seok as a young, fastball-throwing prospect, but with a question mark. “He has consistently shown the ability to induce swings and misses, but he hasn’t always kept his pitches near the strike zone. In four of his seven seasons in South Korea, he walked slightly more than 10 percent of the batters he faced. Go walked 11.6 percent of the batters he faced last year, but he was solid, posting a 3.68 ERA.

“Published scouting reports have him as a middle-of-the-rotation starter at the big league level. Fangraphs analyzed that he mixes a mid-90 mph fastball with a low-90 mph cutter and an occasional curveball. “It’s an intriguing arsenal, but it can also put him at risk because of his fastball.

If Ko announces his signing with San Diego before 7 a.m. on April 4, he will officially join infielder Ha-Sung Kim, 29. The San Francisco Giants, a fellow National League West club, have outfielder Lee Jung-hoo, 26. Lee signed a six-year, $113 million contract with San Francisco last month, fulfilling his first major league dream. Go Woo-seok is married to Lee’s sister, so it’s a family affair. We can expect to see Kim Ha-seong, Ko Woo-seok, and Lee Jung-hoo playing together in the big leagues as soon as this year.

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