40 days into the Kim Tae-gun-Ryu Ji-hyuk trade… Samsung is happy, KIA has an unexpected name

On 5 July, KIA and Samsung made a one-for-one trade that caught the attention of the league. In exchange for catcher Kim Tae-gun (34), KIA sent infield utility player Ryu Ji-hyuk (29) to Samsung.

Samsung was considered to have the deepest catcher pool in the league, and the league was still short of catchers, so Samsung was at the centre of trade rumours all year. The gist of the rumours was that Samsung would give up one of their catchers and get a player of their choosing. In fact, Samsung reportedly had many inquiries and eventually decided to dip its toe into the trade market, with Ryu Ji-hyeok in the cards for KIA.

메이저놀이터 Regardless of whether or not the trade goes through, the general consensus is that both sides scratched an itch. Samsung, which is in the midst of a Yoo Soo-jin generation change, lost veterans Kim Sang-soo (KT) and Oh Sun-jin (Hanwha), who became free agents after last season. They also lost Lee Won-seok in a trade with Kiwoom during the season. While the team had young and talented infielders, they needed someone to provide a focal point until these players matured. After a series of errors in the infield in the early and mid-season, that thirst grew stronger.

Ryu Ji-hyuk showed off his utility ability to play multiple positions, including third base and first base. He’s not too old either, so he could be included in the mid- to long-term picture. He had the ability to hit close to 30 per cent and had a high and consistent on-base percentage. With Kang Min-ho as the main catcher, the team might have been worried that Kim Tae-gun, who was about to become a free agent, would be underutilised.

The opposite was true for KIA. The infield was young, led by Kim Do-young and Byun Woo-hyuk, and there were resources for the future, including Park Min. Catcher, on the other hand, has been a problem for years. Park Dong-won, who was acquired in a trade last year to solve the team’s catcher problem, left the team as soon as he was eligible for free agency, signing with LG. The team tried to fill the gap by developing an existing catcher and acquiring Joo Hyo-sang via trade, but the problems were evident throughout the season.

Kim Tae-gun has been the team’s main catcher since his transfer ⓒKyung Hye-mi Reporter

Ryu Ji-hyuk overcame a batting slump shortly after joining the team to produce a big rebound in August ⓒSamsung Lions

Kim Tae-gun, who has experience as a full-time catcher, was expected to bring stability to the shaky catching staff. While Kim Tae-gun held on, there was also a plan to develop younger catchers to prepare for the future. The difference between having a solid starting catcher and not having one was also taken into consideration.

It’s been 40 days since the trade. It’s still too early to tell if the trade was a success or failure. However, Samsung is slowly moving away from the possibility of it being an ‘underperforming business’ as Ryu Ji-hyuk is performing well. Ryu is batting .292 in 26 games since joining Samsung. He has been a steady presence at catcher, helping to stabilise the team’s infield.

Ryu’s August performance has been solid, though he had some concerns about his slump shortly after joining the team. In 11 games in August, he’s batting .447 with a .488 on-base percentage and a 1.041 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). Even if this performance can’t be sustained, it’s not unreasonable to expect him to be able to provide steady hit production and run support.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Kim Tae-gun is a bit of a mixed bag. While some say that the stability and experience of a starting catcher can’t be ignored, others say that his batting performance hasn’t been up to par and that he’s been making more errors than expected. Kim Tae-gun is batting .227 with an OPS of .447 in 22 games since joining KIA. While defence is an important position, this is a far cry from his OPS this year (0.657) at Samsung.

Interestingly, the name Han Jun-soo (24) has emerged since Kim’s arrival. This year, KIA started the season with Han Seung-taek Joo Hyo-sang and had several catchers make the first team, including Shin Bum-soo and Kim Sun-woo, but none ultimately stuck. That’s why KIA sacrificed Ryu Ji-hyuk to bring in Kim Tae-gun, who is still half a year away from free agency.

Han Jun-soo, the team’s next-generation catcher, has shown talent in both offence and defence ⓒKyun Hye-mi Reporter

Han Jun-soo has also been praised for his stability in defence ⓒKIA Tigers

However, Han Joon-soo’s unexpected talent as a backup to Kim Tae-gun has been attracting more attention in recent years. A 2018 first-round pick out of Dongseong High School, Han is batting .269 with one home run, five RBIs and an OPS of .731 in 15 games this year. In games where he has started, albeit in a small sample size, he is batting .280 (7-for-25) with one home run and five RBIs.

While he has some work to do on the power side of the plate, he is praised for his ability to turn the bat, and his defence is considered solid for a young catcher. A full season will reveal more issues, but if he and Kim split playing time appropriately, he’ll gain experience and be a good foundation for next year and beyond.