As the Orioles season ended, it seemed that pitcher Aaron Brooks had established himself as a contender for a job on their staff in 2020.
Brooks, who was acquired on waivers from the Oakland Athletics just before the All-Star break, was supposed to be a stopgap starter for the Orioles, but that didn’t work out well.
Let go by the Athletics, the Orioles hoped Brooks would improve on his 5.01 ERA. Instead, he struggled to a 6.18 ERA with the Orioles, including allowing nine runs in three innings in a 23-2 loss to Houston on August 10.
There were other forgettable outings, too. On July 22, Brooks allowed five earned runs on nine hits in 3 2/3 innings at Arizona, and six earned runs in 2 2/3 innings against Texas on September 7.
But there was one outing that gave the Orioles a glimpse of what Brooks could be. Richard Bleier was designated the opener for a game against Seattle on September 20. After Bleier completed two innings, Brooks came in as the “bulk” pitcher.
Brooks followed with one of the longest relief appearances in Orioles history. He allowed a run on just one hit, throwing 83 pitches in seven innings in the Orioles’ 5-3 win over the Mariners.
He ended his 2019 season with two spotless innings at Toronto five days later.
Perhaps Brooks was better as a long reliever than as a starter, and with few spots on the 2020 staff accounted for, it seemed as if he had a decent shot at starting the season with the Orioles.
Instead, Brooks signed with the KIA Tigers in South Korea, and the Orioles allowed him to leave for a small buyout.
Players with uncertain major league prospects have often gone to Asia, and sometimes been rewarded handsomely.
Take Miles Mikolas. After 37 forgettable appearances with San Diego and Texas from 2012-2014, Mikolas went to Japan and was an eye-popping 31-13 with a 2.18 ERA in 62 starts for the Yomiuri Giants. He was able to parlay that into a two-year, $15.5 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.
In his first year with the Cardinals, Mikolas was 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA and accepted a four-year, $68 million extension that runs through 2022.
Eric Thames was a marginal major leaguer who in part of 2013, batted .252 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 36 games for the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk before signing on in Korea.
Thames tore up the Korean league in three seasons with 124 homers and an OPS of 1.172. That earned Thames a three-year, $6 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers with a $7.5 option for next season.
He’s had 72 home runs and an .848 OPS for the Brewers.
Brooks will presumably take some time in Korea and attempt to create a market for himself.
Another former Oriole pitcher, Tyler Wilson, has done the same. Wilson was 8-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 42 games from 2015-2017, but with no major league offers after the 2018 season, he headed to South Korea to pitch for the LG Twins.
Wilson, whose wife, Chelsea, had twin boys, is weighing whether to return to the States or stay in South Korea. With the Orioles, he had a nearly ideal family situation. The Orioles were close to his Virginia home, and even though pitching for Norfolk was a step away from where he wanted to be, he was close to family.
In his two years in South Korea, Wilson is 23-11 with a 2.99 ERA and a 1.149 WHIP. He’s also adjusted well to living there.
“Chelsea, my two twin boys and I have really enjoyed our time in Korea,” Wilson wrote in a text message.
“I have grown immensely not only as a baseball player but as a person. The KBO is so different on so many levels — some great, some not so much. More than anything it has been a chance to go start 30 games at a high level …
“I think 360+ innings in Korea has prepared me well for any possible new chapter, all of which we are open to, With that being said, our decision will be based on what’s best for our family, putting pride aside.
“In Korea, the travel is easier and every Monday is off. Family time abounds and is amazingly rare in baseball season — we get it in Korea.
“The US provides a chance to play at the highest level in our home country, in the most beautiful ballparks and against the best players in the world — the ideal challenge … We are evaluating all of our options and will make a decision based on the heart.”
Wilson is again a teammate of Hyun Soo Kim, who batted .281 in his two years with the Orioles but wasn’t an everyday player. Kim has resumed his batting excellence at home. This season, he slashed .304/.370/.407 with 11 home runs and 82 RBIs.