The offseason has been slow-moving to this point, though we did just see a blockbuster deal sending Blake Snell to the Padres just last night. In addition to that, we should start to see some movement involving players who have been posted from their teams in Japan and Korea. Because of agreements with those leagues and MLB, there is a deadline on when those players can sign, and two of the top free agents of the year are included on that list in pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano and infielder Ha-Seong Kim. The Red Sox have been indicated to have interest in both, and this week we’ll touch on both before their deadlines to sign come up within the next week or so. Today, we’re going to focus on Kim.
As I mentioned, the Red Sox are reportedly one of the “finalists” for the KBO star. According to this report from Daniel Kim, the deadline for the infielder to sign with a major-league club is on Friday, January 1, and that report also includes the Red Sox as one of the teams to watch in the competition for the services of Kim. As a quick refresher, any team that signs Kim would not only be responsible for the terms of the contract but also a posting fee that would go to his former club — in this case, the Kiwoom Heroes of the KBO — that is proportional to the overall value of any deal he signed.
With regards to the player himself, to put it simply Kim has been one of the best players in the KBO since he was 19 years old. Now still only entering his age-25 season, he is unlike almost any other player to have come over from Korea in recent years, with Jung-Ho Kang perhaps being the best direct comparison. Kim is coming off what is likely his best season as a pro to date, hitting .306/.397/.523 with 30 homers in 622 plate appearances. Over his career, he’s slashed .294/.373/.493. And he’s done all this while playing shortstop, making him a potential superstar in the majors.
Of course, the track record of performance from players coming over from Korea is still spotty as there isn’t a huge list of players who have done so. There have been some success stories — Kang was quite good before his career was derailed in part by off-field issues — as well as some not-so-successful stories such as Byung-Ho Park. The biggest question for Kim, as is the case for any hitter coming over from the KBO, is how he’ll be able to handle velocity. While the KBO obviously has very good competition as it is a high-level professional league, the pitchers there tend to rely more on offspeed offerings rather than pure velocity to get batters out. It will be an adjustment period to be sure.
That said, the scouting reports are relatively high on Kim. Baseball America, writing about the star infielder back in May, expressed those same concerns about adjusting to velocity but added that Kim’s “athleticism and twitch” should allow him to make the necessary adjustment in order to succeed in the majors. They also mention that he has the athleticism to contribute on the base paths while also having the defensive prowess to stick at shortstop long-term. This explains the amount of interest in Kim, a good defensive shortstop with speed on the bases and a strong bat at the plate.
Of course, that shortstop piece is less important to the Red Sox, who already have their shortstop in Xander Bogaerts. While Kim may be the better defensive option, it is highly unlikely he would be brought in with the plan to move Bogaerts to another spot on the diamond. Instead, Kim would likely slide over to second base for the Red Sox. And, it is worth mentioning, just this morning Daniel Kim reported teams are viewing him as a potential super-utility option.
While moving to second is a downgrade on the defensive spectrum, it would still be a big get for the Red Sox to shore up a position that has been wildly inconsistent since Dustin Pedroia’s injury issues began. Kim also fits the presumed window for Boston as a 25-year-old who would hopefully be able to contribute right away but also could be expected to be a part of the team for at least the next half-decade. That is exactly the type of player this team is looking for. And, on top of all of that, this signing would make Jeter Downs, a top-100 prospect in his own right, a potential trade chip to bring in much-needed pitching help.
Of course, that is putting the cart before the horse a bit as the Red Sox have not yet completed this deal and there is indeed competition for Kim’s services. According to the above report from Kim, teams like the Blue Jays, Padres, Cardinals, Rangers and Reds are also interested. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that so many teams would be lining up for a 25-year-old with Kim’s skillset, but that will of course drive up the price. MLB Trade Rumors projected Kim to get a five-year deal worth $40 million, which would also come with a posting fee a shade over $7 million.
The biggest concern I see in terms of competition for signing him would be that teams willing and able to play him at shortstop could have an upperhand, both because it is presumably the preferred position for the player along with the fact that teams are likely to be willing to pay more for a shortstop than the Red Sox may be willing to pay for a guy who would likely play second base for them.
That said, the project deem seems like a slam dunk from where I’m sitting. There is always going to be risk in signing a player from an overseas league without knowing how they’ll adjust to major-league action, but the upside here is massive. If Kim can translate even most of his skills from the KBO to the majors, that projected deal is huge value. It is extremely rare for a potential everyday player to be available in free agency at just 25 years old.
The Red Sox are one of the richest franchise’s in baseball, and this is exactly the situation where they should be flexing those muscles. Yes, there is very real downside that could see the Red Sox have a sunk cost on their payroll for multiple years, but on the other side of the coin Kim fills a big hole on the roster, fits their aforementioned window, and opens up one of their best prospect for potential trade talks. This is where it makes sense to push a little beyond your predetermined stopping point in negotiations to ensure you get your guy.
Kim reportedly agreed to Padres hours after this posted, because of course he did.
The Padres have reached an agreement with Ha-seong Kim, a source tells The Athletic.— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) December 28, 2020