Former Nationals first-round pick and top prospect Erick Fedde just wrapped up a dominant season with the Korea Baseball Organization’s NC Dinos, which saw the 30-year-old righty take home league MVP honors in his first season overseas. He’s unsurprisingly drawn MLB interest on the heels of that performance, but Fedde will have to weigh that interest against a considerable raise from his incumbent team. Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reports that Fedde has an offer in hand from the Dinos, which GM Sun-Nam Lim describes as the “best” possible offer his team can make “within the rules” of the KBO.
The KBO caps teams’ spending on foreign players, with first-year players able to earn a maximum of $1MM. Fedde earned that $1MM maximum in 2023. As Yoo further explains, KBO clubs are capped at $4MM to be divided among three foreign players. Each player they’re planning to re-sign for a subsequent season can increase that cap by $100K — up to a maximum of three players.
Lim didn’t expressly state this, but the implication of saying they’ve made the best offer possible within the confines of the KBO’s rules on international signings is that the Dinos would be spending that entire $4.1MM pool on Fedde alone. Yonhap’s initial report indicates that the Dinos have offered Fedde “at least” one additional year; it’s at least possible the team has put forth a multi-year deal, which could then clock in at just over $4MM in AAV if the Dinos are comfortable forgoing other foreign additions.
Fedde spoke with Yoo about the decisions he faces this winter, noting that it’s still early in the process and that he faces “so many unknowns” on the heels of leading the KBO in wins (20), strikeouts (209) and ERA (2.00). Fedde touted his faith in agent Scott Boras, voiced his appreciation for everything the Dinos have done for him, and suggested he’ll ultimately do what he feels is best for him and his family.
Fedde’s debut campaign in the KBO was nothing short of remarkable. He pitched 180 1/3 innings of 2.00 ERA ball, averaging six innings per outing along the way. He fanned 29.5% of his opponents against a 4.9% walk rate and recorded an enormous 70% ground-ball rate. KBO hitters don’t tend to focus on elevating the ball as much as their MLB counterparts, so it’s common to see larger ground-ball rates among pitchers there, but a 70% clip is nevertheless excellent.
Presumably, given the demand for starting pitching throughout MLB, Fedde will find guaranteed offers to return to the Majors. The former No. 18 overall pick climbed as high as No. 52 on Baseball America’s top-100 rankings prior to his MLB debut, so there’s certainly some track record and prospect pedigree that adds to his appeal for big league clubs.
Had he just enjoyed a strong season while following the same gameplan he did throughout his time in the Majors and in Triple-A, perhaps interest would be a bit more muted, with teams chalking up his success to facing lighter competition. That’s surely a factor, but Fedde also chatted with Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post back in September about how he’s worked to change the shape of his breaking ball, change the release point on his heater, alter the grip on his changeup and adding a newly adopted sweeper to his repertoire. It’s a notable enough series of changes — particularly the incorporation of an entirely new offering — that Fedde will be viewed as a decidedly different pitcher than he was during his run with the Nats organization.
The extent to which teams are sold on the changes will obviously determine the strength of offers he’ll receive from MLB teams. In recent years, we’ve seen Merrill Kelly, Chris Flexen and Josh Lindblom parlay strong KBO showings into big league deals — Flexen after spending only one year in South Korea. We’ve not yet seen a former big league pitcher coming back from the KBO reach $10MM in guaranteed money, though Fedde’s performance was more dominant than Kelly and Flexen, and he’s three years younger than Lindblom (another former KBO MVP) was when he returned.
On the other hand, even if an MLB team is willing to offer something like two years and $10-12MM total, Fedde could also consider further betting on himself with another year leading the Dinos’ staff. If he were to repeat this performance or even show improvement, he could take home what sounds like a roughly $4MM salary from the Dinos in 2024 and then hit the open market next winter in search of a two-, three- or even four-year deal from an MLB club at a much heartier annual rate than is likely available to him right now.
It all boils down to a matter of risk tolerance for Fedde, who’ll have to weigh the options of maxing out on his earning power right now or taking a lesser 2024 contract in pursuit of a heftier deal next offseason. Regardless of which route he chooses, the mere fact that he’s in this position is a testament to the strength of his 2023 performance, which stands a clear-cut example of the earning upside players chase when taking their game overseas.