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

On July 5, 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 꽁머니지급 the deepest catcher pool in the league, and the league was still short on catchers, so Samsung was at the center of trade rumors all year. The gist of the rumors was that Samsung would give up one of their catcher resources 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.

Regardless of whether the trade goes through or not, 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. The team 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 serve as a focal point until these players matured. After a series of errors in the infield in the early and midseason, 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 that old and could be included in the mid- to long-term plans. He can hit close to 30% and has 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 underutilized.

The opposite was true for KIA. The infield was young, led by Kim Do-young and Byun Woo-hyuk, and they had 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 became 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, who has experience as a full-time catcher, was expected to bring stability to the shaky catching staff. While Kim Tae-gun held out, the team may have also planned to develop younger catchers to prepare for the future. They also considered the difference between having a solid starting catcher and not having one.

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 a “losing proposition” as Ryu Ji-hyeok is performing well. Ryu is batting .292 in 26 games since joining Samsung. He has been a steady presence at catcher, helping to stabilize the team’s infield.

Ryu’s August performance has been solid, though he did have some concerns after he went into a slump shortly after joining the team. In 11 games in August, he has a .447 batting average, 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 provide consistent hit production and run support.

On 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 met expectations and that he’s making more errors than expected. Kim Tae-gun is batting .227 with a .447 OPS in 22 games since his move to KIA. While defense 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 no one 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 has been praised for his steadiness in the field as well as his defense ⓒKIA Tigers

However, Han Joon-soo’s unexpected talent as a backup to Kim Tae-gun has become the focus of attention in recent years. The 2018 first-round pick out of Dongseong High School 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 defense is solid for a young catcher. A full season will likely reveal more of his issues, but splitting time with Kim Tae-gun will allow him to gain experience and provide a good foundation for next year and beyond.