Posted on February 6, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Seung Hwan Oh

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Even after a handful of notable additions this offseason, the Texas Rangers continue to rebuild their pitching staff. On Tuesday, the Rangers agreed to a deal with veteran reliever Seung-Hwan Oh. The deal is reportedly worth $2.75 million for one season with a $4.5 million club option for the 2019 season. Oh is also able to earn up to $1 million in performance bonuses in each of the next two seasons.

The 35-year old Korean has spent the last two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. Prior to that, he pitched in both South Korea and Japan. Oh had an exceptional rookie season with the Cardinals in 2016. In 76 appearances, he was 6-3 with a 1.92 ERA. He struck out 103 batters over 79.2 innings and saved 19 games in 23 opportunities.

However, Oh was unable to carry that over into 2017. He got off to a sluggish start in April and then had a disastrous June that more or less took him out of the closer’s role. He finished the season with 20 saves in 24 opportunities. However, his strikeout rate was considerably lower than it was in 2016. Oh also ended the season with a 4.10 ERA, with opposing hitters batting .285 against him.

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Obviously, the Rangers are hoping that Oh will have a bounce-back season and recapture the form he had in 2016. At his age, there’s no guarantee Oh performs any better than he did last year. However, with a one-year deal at a reasonable salary, there’s little risk for the Rangers. Also, even if Oh repeats his productivity from 2017, he can still contribute to the Texas bullpen in some capacity.

Of course, if Oh regains the form he had in 2016, there’s a good chance he’ll end up in the closer’s role. The Rangers have some uncertainty at the back end of the bullpen heading into spring training. Alex Claudio ended 2017 as the team’s primary closer. He would appear to be in line for that role again in 2018 after posting a 2.50 ERA last season. But with no experience as a closer before last season, Claudio being the Texas closer isn’t written into stone.

Aside from Oh, Matt Bush could also contend for the closer’s job during spring training. Bush saved 10 games in 15 opportunities last season before he was removed from that role following a terrible June. There is some speculation that the Rangers will give Bush the chance to pitch as a starter during spring training. But after adding three starters via trade or free agency this winter, it’s more likely that Bush ends up back in the bullpen.

No matter how the pecking order shakes out, the trio of Claudio, Bush, and Oh could serve the Rangers well at the back-end of the bullpen. Texas also has Jake Diekman, Keone Kela, and Tony Barnette as likely contributors in their bullpen. That group may be lacking in high-end talent. But if at least four or five of that group of six performs up to their potential, the Rangers should have a solid bullpen in 2018.

After the Rangers blew 21 saves in 2017, adding a pitcher of Oh’s experience was a necessary move. There’s no guarantee that he emerges as the team’s full-time closer. But he comes at an affordable price with a good amount of upside, making Oh a positive signing for the Rangers so late in the offseason.

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