Happy Trails, Hong-Chih Kuo

When the Dodgers non-tendered Hong-Chih Kuo earlier this winter, it seemed likely that we’d seen the last of him in Los Angeles, though we held out hope as he remained unsigned amid reports the Dodgers were remaining in contact with his agent. Those odds seemed to dwindle as the Dodgers added Mike MacDougal and Todd Coffey to the bullpen, and now it seems that Kuo is gone for good, since ESPN’s Jayson Stark is reporting that Kuo has decided on his new team and is expected to sign with Seattle this week.

Kuo was by far the longest tenured member of the Dodger organization, having started his career with one game for the 2000 San Bernardino Stampede (a club which also saw rehab stints from 41-year-old Orel Hershiser and 37-year-old Devon White). Along with the now-departed Jonathan Broxton, he was one of the two only remaining members of the dreadful 91-loss 2005 Dodgers from last year’s squad.

Assuming this is it for Kuo in Los Angeles, he’ll leave behind a whole lot more memories than you’d expect from an oft-injured middle reliever who managed fewer than 300 big-league innings in seven seasons. Sure, there were the multiple elbow surgeries and troubling bouts with anxiety, but there was also the out-of-nowhere playoff start in 2006, the greatest bat flip of all time, and a 2010 that was so overwhelmingly dominating that only one¬†left-handed reliever in baseball history (minimum 60 innings) has ever topped it in terms of WHIP:

1 Billy Wagner 0.777 74.2 1999 HOU 1.57 287 .135 .208 .212 .420
2 Hong-Chih Kuo 0.783 60.0 2010 LAD 1.20 321 .139 .211 .192 .403
3 Arthur Rhodes 0.833 69.2 2002 SEA 2.33 183 .187 .227 .274 .501
4 Billy Wagner 0.837 77.2 2005 PHI 1.51 293 .165 .229 .265 .494
5 Jim Brewer 0.843 78.1 1972 LAD 1.26 267 .157 .233 .257 .490
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/5/2012.

Kuo’s performance that year just can’t be overstated; lefty batters managed just six hits against him all season, with only one extra-base hit among them. Of course, his 2011 quickly fell apart as continued battles with anxiety and yet another arm surgery made his non-tender decision a given. I’m not sure where he stands in his rehab, but since he’s just a year off that historic 2010, taking a gamble on him for a minimum-salary or minor-league deal would be a no-brainer for any team. I wish that had been the Dodgers, and I would have thought that he may have not wanted to entrust his health to a training staff which isn’t familiar with him, but it’s also not hard to think that he may have welcomed a fresh start elsewhere, and Seattle is obviously an appealing destination for Asian players.

When longtime Dodgers move on, we often offer a halfhearted “best of luck” without really caring what happens to them. (Pretty sure I’m talking about you, Brad Penny.) In this case, I think we’d all agree that even if it’s not for the Dodgers, nothing would make us happier than to see Kuo return to health and mow down the American League. I know I’ll be watching.