Every offseason, plenty of Rays players depart the organization to head elsewhere. But it has never been something like this. First J.D. Martin and then Luke Scott signed to play in the Korean Baseball Organization for next season, Martin for the Samsung Lions and Scott for the SK Wyverns. It takes a second for the magnitude of that to sink in.
Martin and Scott each had their moments last season, but it was their flaws that won out as their major league careers came to a halt. Martin is coming off a season for the Rays’ Triple-A Durham affiliate that saw him go 16-4 with a 2.75 ERA in 27 starts and 160.1 innings pitched. He walked a minuscule 1.8 batters per 9 innings, and his 0.8 HR/9 was solid as well. But even in the season of his life, Martin struck out just 6.5 batters per 9 and allowed more than a hit per inning. The reason: his stuff just isn’t there anymore. Elbow and shoulder injuries have caused Martin’s fastball to go down to the 86-87 MPH range, and while he throws several pitches to try to compensate for that, he does not do so well enough. Major League teams were convinced that despite how effective Martin was at Triple-A, his lack of overpowering stuff would doom him in the major leagues–even after he managed a solid 4.32 ERA in 24 starts with the Washington Nationals in 2009 and 2010. Martin was coming off an excellent season and we had to hope that some team would give him a chance to make their major league roster for next season. Instead, the numbers, the performance, even the dominance was meaningless–Martin’s scouting report did not change, and that is all they cared about. Martin had been pitching in Triple-A for the last three years, but after that had gotten him nowhere, he was ready for a change. Martin will get just that in Korea, and hopefully a strong season their can change somebody’s perception.
There were a couple of times in 2013 when we thought that bringing back Luke Scott would turn out to be Andrew Friedman’s latest stroke of genius. First there was spring training, when it seemed like Scott was impossible to get out, and then, after overcoming a calf strain, he delivered that level of performance in the regular season as well. In his first 19 games and 67 plate appearances, Scott hit to a .296/.420/.481 line with 3 homers, 14 RBI, and an excellent 13-12 strikeout to walk ratio. He could not quite maintain that, but even through 63 games and 233 plate appearances he had a .274/.361/.488 line with 12 doubles, 9 homers, and 38 RBI. Scott was finally healthy, and he was showcasing the form that made him a strong hitter for the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles from 2006 and 2010. But then, he stoppped and that was it. From late July to the end of the season, he was bothered by a back problem and managed just a .115/.190/.135 line in the 58 plate appearances he did make. His numbers on the season were not that bad, but the Rays simply did not see enough to justify putting him on their postseason roster. Luke Scott can still play. He can still have his moments when we makes us forget that he is not the player he used to be. But only when he’s healthy can he play at that level, and the past three years have proven that Scott can’t be counted on to be at full strength for long. Scott may have another flicker of greatness left, but major league teams were not going to sit there hoping Scott waiting for those two weeks Scott would figure it out. Off heads Scott to Korea hoping to prove to himself and the rest of baseball that his health problems are something he can get past.
Who would have thought that playing professionally in South Korea would be an option to former major league players? It is a testament to the development of baseball in Korea that playing there is not so different at all from playing in Japan. It says a lot about globalization that these two players can head halfway around the world and be confident that they can maintain something close to their current lifestyle. We can conclude that baseball has a freer labor market now, with players unafraid to head to foreign countries if that is where they can go to pay the bills. But what does it say about baseball in America? This country is where J.D. Martin and Luke Scott want to be but they did not get a realistic chance to stay. For all the positives that Martin and Scott heading to Korea shows about the global development of baseball, there is one thing that flies in the face of that: they are going to Korea to try to get one more chance in the major leagues. Martin and Scott will be just fine, but there is something wrong when players with talent have to circle the globe because not one of the 30 teams will offer them an opportunity to stay.