Excitement in East Asia – Offseason Updates 

Here at the end of January, the hot stove is, well, less than hot… so let’s take a moment away from MLB news and see where things stand in baseball abroad with updates on leagues in Korea, Japan and Taiwan! We’ll cover rule changes, all the offseason drama, the reigning chapions of each league and even some names you may remember from their play stateside in years past.

KBO – Korea

Korean baseball is going through as big a shift as we’re likely to see in one baseball offseason, adopting MLB’s pace of play rules and adding a few of their own. Changes include a pitch clock (18 seconds with bases empty and 23 seconds with runners on), an automated balls/strikes umpire system, and fines for hitters when they remove both feet from the batter’s box!

The biggest shock of the offseason came during the “secondary draft” where teams can sign other teams players if they are not on a 35 man list of protected players. Fans were shocked when the Hanwha Eagles selected SSG Landers outfielder Kim Kang-Min. Kim was the 2022 KBO Series MVP and played 22 years for SSG as a fan favorite. SSG fans were angry and Kim himself considered retiring. At the end of the day, Kim Kang-Min will play for the Eagles, and SSG general manager Kim Sung-Yong lost his job over the mishap.

LG Twins fans rejoiced when their team finally snapped a 29 year championship drought against the KT Wiz. Park Dong-Won (a.k.a. Big Tuna) hit some big time bombs and fan favorite Oh Ji-hwan took home the series MVP trophy. 

Finally, let’s remember some guys! Former Diamondbacks and Blue Jays prospect Socrates Brito is thriving with the Kia Tigers. He just signed on for his third year with the club after two all star seasons and he is the subject of perhaps the best fan chant in the league.

NPB – Japan

Unlike the KBO, the NPB isn’t adding anything new to the rulebook. Having said that, there are rumours that changes are coming soon – it seems like there is some appetite to align more closely to the MLB, as larger bases and a ghost runner in extra innings are the changes possibly being considered.

The big news from Japan has concerned pitching phenom and WBC champ Roki Sasaki. Following some news you may have heard about former NPB players signing big deals in the majors, Sasaki may be thinking about his future abroad. A 22 year old fireballer for the Chiba Lotte Marines, Sasaki was until recently the last player left unsigned to an NPB roster after having left the players union. Fans speculated that he was eager to get a deal that will allow him to leave for the majors as soon as next year, but the Marines have financial and competitive incentives to keep him around longer. Though he finally signed his deal for the season, it is unclear what exactly the contract says and if he will be MLB bound next offseason.

Japan also saw another long championship drought snapped, as the Hanshin Tigers – one of the oldest franchises in Japanese baseball – ended a whopping 38 year championship drought, beating the Orix Buffaloes in 7 games. The curse of KFC founder Colonel Sanders is finally over!

Some former major leaguers are also thriving in the NPB – Pittsburgh Pirates fans may remember José Osuna getting his first big league hit off C.C. Sabathia in 2017. While his career in the majors didn’t work out, he is finishing up a three year contract with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows this year after hammering 23 home runs and 71 RBIs last season.

CPBL – Taiwan

The Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan hasn’t gone as far as the KBO where rule changes are concerned, but they have added a 20 second pitch clock with bases empty last season, and they may be adding to it with a 25 second rule when runners are on base. 

There is one huge change in the CPBL, mind you – a brand new team! If you’re looking for a team to root for in the CPBL, then how about the TSG Hawks? Based out of the lovely southern city of Khaosiung, the Hawks are the sixth team in the league and the first full-on expansion team since the Rakuten Monkeys in 2003.

Apparently 2023 was the year of the broken championship drought – in addition to the Texas Rangers (62 years), the Hanshin Tigers (38 years) and the LG Twins (29 years), the Wei Chuan Dragons won their first title in 24 years this past season after winning a thrilling seven game series over Rakuten.

There are even some throwback MLB names plying their trade in Taiwan. let’s give a shout out to Drew Gagnon, the 33 year old pitcher who made his MLB debut with the Mets in 2018 before pursuing a career in Asia. He’s been a star in the CPBL and last season won the league MVP award and a Taiwan Series title with the Dragons.

Featured image of José Osuna and friends by Yakyu Cosmopolitan on X.

Sam Dougherty is a guest writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. If you want to write for us, get in touch and pitch us an article!

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