By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 22 (Yonhap) -- Whether it's signing new players or assembling a new coaching staff, the Hanwha Eagles have been the busiest team in South Korean baseball this offseason.
As they should: The Eagles were the worst team in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2020, with a 46-95-3 (wins-losses-ties) record keeping them out of the postseason for the 13th time in the last 14 seasons. A major overhaul was due.
It started from the top, with the club's former marketing director Park Chan-hyeok taking over as the new CEO in early November.
Later that month, the Eagles signed ex-Milwaukee Brewers coach Carlos Subero as their new manager. The Venezuelan became the fourth foreign skipper in league history.
The move was followed by signings of two new foreign pitchers: right-hander Nick Kingham and left-hander Ryan Carpenter. Former big league infielder Ryon Healy completed the Eagles' foreign player puzzle on Dec. 6.
KBO clubs are allowed to sign up to three foreign players, with a maximum two pitchers, and the Eagles are going into the 2021 season with three new faces. They finished the 2020 season with Warwick Saupold in the rotation and Brandon Barnes in the outfield, and they didn't sign a replacement for left-hander Chad Bell after cutting ties with the oft-injured pitcher in October.
Kingham pitched for another KBO club, SK Wyverns, in 2020, but made only two starts while battling injuries. The Wyverns' Opening Day starter was 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA across 10 2/3 innings. He was released in July and underwent season-ending elbow surgery, but the Eagles said the right-hander will be good to go next year.
Carpenter spent the 2020 season with the Rakuten Monkeys in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in Taiwan, going 10-7 with a 4.00 ERA in 26 games, including 25 starts.
Healy has a pair of 20-homer major league seasons to his credit, one each with the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners. The Eagles said they liked Healy's combination of power and contact ability, as attested by advanced stats.
Two days before signing Healy, the Eagles hired Darryl Kennedy as bench coach and Jose Rosado as pitching coach. And last Sunday, the Eagles signed Johnny Washington as their new hitting coach.
Subero was the Brewers' first base and infield coach from 2016 to 2019, and he managed Venezuela at the Premier12, an Olympic qualifying tournament, last year.
Subero played for five years in the minors and one season in independent ball. He served as a minor league manager in the Texas Rangers' system from 2001 to 2007, and also worked for the minor league affiliates of the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Brewers.
The Eagles said they liked Subero's data-driven mindset and counted on his ability to develop young, raw players into a dynamic core for the future.
Kennedy brings two decades of minor league managing experience. Rosado was a two-time All-Star while pitching for the Kansas City Royals in the late 1990s.
Washington was the San Diego Padres' hitting coach in 2019 and had been their first base coach previously. Though Washington is just 36 -- he is only two months older than the Eagles' eldest player, Lee Sung-yul -- he has been coaching for over a decade, including a stint in the minors for the Dodgers.
As a minor leaguer, Washington played for Subero longer than any other manager he had. In an article published by The Athletic in March 2019, Subero recalled telling Washington, then a struggling minor league player, that he was bound to reach the big leagues as a coach.
"Johnny's a great listener. He pays attention to little details," Subero was quoted as saying in the article. "He has the ability to communicate things very simply, and he relates to every individual. He's able to build a good, honest relationship with players where they trust him immediately. I don't think it takes long to trust Johnny, and when you trust somebody, whatever you say after that, you have that credibility."
Subero predicted in that piece that Washington could someday be a major league manager. And Washington interviewed for the Los Angeles Angels' managerial position after the 2019 season.
Washington didn't get the job. And now, the former minor league skipper and player will be reunited in the KBO.
They will have their work cut out, and the only way for the Eagles to go is up after their dismal 2020 season.
On offense, the Eagles ranked last in the KBO in the following categories: batting average (.245), runs (551), home runs (79), hits (1,189), strikeouts (1,163), walks (462), on-base percentage (.320) and slugging percentage (.338).
On the mound, the Eagles allowed the most hits (1,400), second-most home runs (158) and second-most walks (609). They also posted the second-worst ERA (5.28) allowed the second-most baserunners per inning, with 1.59 in walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP). Their pitchers allowed a combined .799 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), the worst in the KBO.
Early in the offseason, the Eagles cut ties with some of their unproductive, 30-something players, paving the path for younger, if less talented, players to gain more experience.
Subero and his staff won't be under much pressure to win in 2021, as the Eagles will enter Year 1 of rebuilding, though cynics will claim that the Eagles have been rebuilding for more than a decade.
The leash will likely start getting shorter in 2022, the second season of Subero's three-year deal, and the new skipper will try to do something that has only been done once since 2008 -- taking the Eagles to the postseason.
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