(ATTN: CHANGES headline, dateline lead; UPDATES throughout with player's comments)
By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, Dec. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korean pitcher Lim Chang-yong said Monday he has signed with the Chicago Cubs of Major League Baseball (MLB), four days after claiming he had agreed to terms with the team.
Arriving from Chicago, where he had signed the contract, Lim said he is determined to make the most of the opportunity to play in the big leagues.
"I felt I would never get another opportunity to pitch in the U.S. after this," Lim told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "It seems a little late at my age (36), but I am happy that I am getting the chance to experience American baseball. I hope I can adjust well to the majors."
Earlier Monday, an informed source told Yonhap News Agency that Lim had signed over the weekend in Chicago, but said financial terms of the deal were not immediately known.
The right-hander flew out to Chicago last Thursday, after claiming that he had agreed to terms with the Cubs and he was traveling there to sign the contract. So far, the Cubs have not given any official confirmation. Lim and his agent, Park Yoo-hyun, had said the deal was a split contract worth up to US$5 million, including options, with different salary rates for the times he spends in the minors and the majors.
Park, who arrived back in South Korea Monday with Lim, told reporters that the Cubs are scheduled to disclose details of Lim's contract Monday in Chicago.
Lim, who pitched the last five seasons for the Yakult Swallows in the Central League of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan, is still recovering from Tommy John surgery in July, the second of his career, to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow. He is expected to be out of action for at least the first half of next year.
Lim said his immediate goal is to focus on his rehab and make the major league roster by mid-summer.
"I heard the Cubs have an excellent rehab staff in Arizona, and I will trust them and follow their lead," he said. "I would like to reach the majors by late July or early August next year and become a full-time major league pitcher by 2014."
If Lim makes the major league roster in 2013, he will be the third South Korean player in the big leagues next year, joining outfielder Choo Shin-soo of the Cincinnati Reds and pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers. All three players will be in the National League (NL) and in the case of Lim and Choo, in the same NL Central Division.
Asked about a potential matchup against Choo, Lim said he'd rather avoid going up against his compatriots and he'd prefer to retire foreign players to fellow South Koreans.
Lim left the Samsung Lions of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) after the 2007 season and joined the Tokyo-based Swallows in 2008. He racked up 128 saves in Japan, the most by a South Korean pitcher there, but didn't record a save in nine appearances this year before coming down with the elbow injury.
Lim put up an 11-13 win-loss record with a 2.09 ERA in his Japanese career. He struck out 231 batters in 233 innings for the Swallows. Lim is best known for his unique arm angle in his delivery; normally a sidearm pitcher, Lim can throw overhand or from a three-quarter angle to change the eye level of opposing hitters. In an NPB game in 2009, Lim touched 160 kilometers per hour (100 miles per hour) with his fastball.
Lim said the Cubs' officials told him that they had been watching him since his KBO days and that they liked his delivery. According to Park, Lim's agent, the Cubs promised the player that once he has fully recovered from the elbow injury, he will not spend much time in the minors and will instead get plenty of opportunities in the big leagues.
Park had said last week other major league clubs, including the Boston Red Sox, the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers, also pursued Lim and that the Cubs offered the second lowest amount of money among all interested clubs. He said Lim opted to go with the Cubs because of their offer to put a personal trainer and a Korean interpreter on their payroll.
After his first Tommy John operation in 2005, Lim needed about two years to return to his dominant form that saw him lead the KBO in saves in three different seasons.
While with the Lions, Lim was posted for interested MLB teams in 2002, but only drew a bid of $650,000 and the Lions declined to accept the bid. Lim had repeatedly said his ultimate career goal was to pitch in the majors.
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