Right-hander Felix Pena is exercising an opt-out in his minor league deal with the Mets in order to sign with a team in the Korea Baseball Organization, reports Anthony DiComo of MLB.com (Twitter link). It’s not clear yet which club Pena will sign with, though Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported earlier this week that the Kia Tigers are considering alternatives with lefty Sean Nolin injured.
Pena, 32, signed with the Mets over the winter on the heels of an outstanding showing in the Dominican Winter League (1.91 ERA, 27-to-7 K/BB ratio in 33 innings). He’s appeared in eight games with the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse thus far — six starts and a pair of relief appearances — working to a 4.06 ERA with a 20.2% strikeout rate and very strong walk and ground-ball rates (7.0% and 53.3%, respectively).
A solid swingman with the Halos from 2018-20, Pena turned in a combined 215 2/3 innings of 4.34 ERA ball with a 23.6% strikeout rate, a 7.7% walk rate and a 43.4% grounder rate during that three-year run. He’s made 24 starts at the MLB level in addition to another 80 relief outings, though it’s likely he’ll work out of a rotation in the KBO.
Pena suffered an ACL tear with the 2019 Angels, rebounded with a solid 2020 effort and then posted disastrous results both in the Majors and in Triple-A during the 2021 season. A hamstring strain shelved him for the first six weeks last season, and he was clobbered for seven runs in just 1 2/3 frames upon returning. The Halos passed him through waivers and retained his rights, but he surrendered 61 innings in 68 1/3 Triple-A frames over the remainder of the year in Salt Lake.
That ugly sequence took him off the MLB radar, but Pena’s strong showing in winter ball and solid work in Triple-A look to have earned him a six-figure salary overseas. If he shows well enough in the KBO, he could potentially put himself back on the MLB map, as we’ve seen with increasing frequency in recent years.