News about Yoshinobu Yamamoto is picking up, and he’s presumably the Yankees’ top international target. Omitting that possibility for a moment, with the pitching depth suddenly thinned out after the Soto trade, the Yankees may need to heavily rely on their bullpen as they did in 2023. All year, the ‘pen showed they were up for the task, but their effectiveness waned in the second half. An intriguing reinforcement was posted recently by the Korea Baseball Organization: Woo Suk Go.
Go is a 25-year-old closer for the LG Twins of the KBO. He’s been a consistent shutdown late-game stalwart, and in fact closed out the Korean Series this past year, clinching a championship for his squad. His fastball crept into the upper 90s this season and he looks to be entering his prime. As the full-time closer for the Twins over the past five seasons, Go’s heavy fastball has generated a ground ball rate of more than 60 percent — that would be a huge help in Yankee Stadium.
2022 was Go’s finest full campaign, in which he posted a 1.48 ERA for the Twins, allowing a paltry 5.6 hits per inning. His ERA inflated a bit in 2023, but he racked up a career high 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings. That’s an enticing number to put it mildly. Go is already an established seven-year veteran in the KBO, having made his debut at age 18 in 2017.
The righty is generating significant interest, but the biggest KBO signing is off the board: the Giants signed excellent outfielder Jung-Hoo Lee to a hefty six-year, $113 million deal. Lee has received much of the fanfare, leaving Go as a less-heralded option. Interestingly, the two are brothers-in-law. Both were on the roster for Korea in the World Baseball Classic.
Shortly after the World Series, MLB tendered a status check on the LG Twins closer, officially communicating their intention to bring him stateside. Go became officially available for negotiations after being posted on December 4th. Brian Cashman and company will have to work quickly if they want to land Go — there is significant buzz that Go will sign with the Cardinals, but several AL teams remain in the mix. One of those teams could be the Red Sox, who got solid production for much of the year from their recent international signing Masataka Yoshida. The Twins of the KBO know Go’s value, and retain the right to renege on his posting should his market not be substantial enough.
LG says that they will grant Go Woo-suk's wish to be posted and will make a final decision with Go after the posting amounts become knownhttps://t.co/VFNS39vnSY— Dan Kurtz (@MyKBO) November 22, 2023
Let’s start with the encouraging stuff. A 30.2-percent strikeout rate and a 10-percent walk rate is something to build on. He’s built like a running back, listed at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds. The Yankees’ reliever development philosophy has a reputation that precedes itself, and I would certainly trust pitching coach Matt Blake to unlock productivity from such a talented player. Go’s arsenal is rife with sharp stuff — the hard fastball is complemented by a devastating vertical curveball. The swing-and-miss ability is undeniable.
With all that being said, it’s always difficult to project an international prospect’s ability to withstand the exorbitant pressures of MLB. This rings especially true because as a back-end reliever, Go will be asked to perform in crunch time. He only has one season topping 70 innings, which will throw anything beyond that into uncertainty. Several Yankees bullpen options showed some wear and tear late in the 2023 season, and if that happens again, they’ll need someone to step up.
Yamamoto is rightfully the top target — fingers crossed the Yankees will land him. Go, though, could be a needle-mover. As a reliever, he’ll most likely ink a contract on the shorter side, minimizing risk for the organization. But regardless, Hal Steinbrenner is ready to spend. Solid relievers are like 20 dollar bills — you can’t have enough of them.