KBO’s Kia Tigers Sign Socrates Brito, Ronnie Williams

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The Kia Tigers of the Korea Baseball Organization have signed outfielder Socrates Brito and right-hander Ronnie Williams to one-year contracts, the team announced.  Reports out of South Korea last week indicated that Brito was joining the Gwangju-based team (hat tip to The Athletic’s Sung Min Kim).

MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Brito will earn a $600K salary with another $300K available in contract incentives, with the Yonhap News’ Jeeho Yoo noting that $100K of Brito’s guaranteed money is a signing bonus.  Also via Yoo, Williams will get a $300K salary and a $100K signing bonus, with $350K more available in incentives.

Brito has appeared in parts of four MLB seasons, hitting .179/.216/.309 over 218 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays from 2015-19.  He signed a minor league contract with the Pirates in 2020 and played at the team’s alternate training site, but opted out of the season in September for tragic reasons, as Brito’s brother passed away from COVID-19.  Returning to the field in 2021, Brito hit .251/.315/.376 over 419 PA with the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate.

This performance represented a notable step down from Brito’s usual strong Triple-A numbers, as he had always produced in his previous stops with the Diamondbacks’ and Jays’ top farm clubs.  Some dropoff isn’t unusual given a full year away from the game, though it was Brito’s first season outside of a Triple-A environment that was very favorable to hitters.  Arizona’s Triple-A team played in the Pacific Coast League, while the 2019 season (which Brito spent with Toronto’s Buffalo affiliate) saw offensive numbers explode all across Triple-A baseball.

A trip to the KBO League might be what Brito needs to get his career back on track, as he enters his age 29 season.  A noted prospect in his early days with the D’Backs, Brito can play any of the three outfield positions, though he has has more recently been deployed in the corners.

Williams turns 26 in early January, and the righty already has seven seasons of pro experience.  A second-round pick for the Cardinals in the 2014 draft, Williams spent his first six years in the St. Louis organization before the Giants claimed him off waivers last winter.  The Miami native has a 4.24 ERA and 21.41% strikeout rate over 409 1/3 career innings in the minors, pitching mostly as a reliever over his last three seasons.  Only 15 2/3 of those innings came at the Triple-A level, as Williams didn’t reach Triple-A until this year in the Giants’ system.

The $400K (and the incentive possibilities) represent a much higher salary than Williams would have earned in the minors this year, and it makes sense that he would take the guaranteed money now rather than roll the dice on signing another minor league deal and trying to finally crack a big league roster.  The Tigers deal also allows Williams for some chance at reinvention, and a chance to showcase his skills for either further opportunities abroad or for MLB scouts.

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