To quote Andy Bernard from The Office (the American version, none of that British crap around these parts), “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good ol’ days before you actually left them.”
The good ol’ days I’m referring to, of course, was the roughly week-long stretch between learning of Rafael Devers’ extension with the Boston Red Sox and the announcement that Trevor Story is due to miss some time after undergoing surgery on his elbow. Man, that was a fun era wasn’t it? ‘Memba not dreading every single day of the post-Xander Bogaerts era?
Easy come, easy go.
Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom is now faced with yet another proverbial fork-in-the-road during an offseason that has been......convoluted, if you’re looking to put things diplomatically. Improvements to the bullpen and signing an international outfielder with potential? That’s good! Seeing a franchise icon leave in free agency only for his successor to undergo surgery that could keep him out for months? That’s bad!
With the star shortstops officially off the market this winter and the free agent pool looking pretty slim—sorry to the dozens of José Iglesias truthers out there—the Red Sox find themselves in quite the pickle when it comes to perhaps the most important position in the infield.
Wonderkid Marcelo Mayer shows a ton of promise but isn’t slated to make his MLB debut until some time in 2024, per MLB Pipeline. Bumping Kiké Hernández down to short seems like an easy solution until you remember that it leaves a hole in center. The Jarren Duran experience could continue from there; I’d love to be wrong, but forgive me if that idea doesn’t leave me jumping for joy. Whoever takes over at shortstop in the meantime, for a guy who’s already had his share of arm strength concerns before getting elbow surgery, will be filling the shoes of someone who was a rotisserie chicken cooker at the position: set it and forget it.
There’s no easy answer with the group of players currently under Boston’s umbrella.
Enter Ha-seong Kim of the San Diego Padres: the possible fix—albeit an unlikely one—to the Trevor Story problem.
Ha-seong Kim signed a four-year deal at $7 million per season with the Dads prior to Opening Day in 2021 after making his professional debut in 2014 in his native South Korea as a member of the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes. I’m more of an NC Dinos guy (that 2020 title team still brings a tear to this grown man’s eye) but that’s besides the point.
Kim’s offensive production, a staple of Trevor Story’s track record over the years, is not entirely inspiring. After posting five consecutive campaigns in the KBO with an OPS above .830 and at least 19 homers, he’s knocked just as many round trippers over the course of his first two MLB seasons combined: 19. His offensive production did increase across the board in 2022 compared to his freshman year (a 107 OPS+ isn’t horrible) and he’s shown flashes of offensive brilliance with San Diego here and there, but his abilities at the plate are not his calling card.
That’s fine, though, because the dude is fantastic with the leather.
Kim’s 2022 resume in the field is headlined by checking into the 95th percentile in Outs Above Average, according to Baseball Savant, on his way to becoming a Gold Glove finalist in the National League before ultimately losing to another defensive anchor in Dansby Swanson. All of that came in the wake of him earning more playing time after Fernando Tatis Jr.’s trying year due to injuries and Ringworm-gate. Kim was spades defensively in quite a unique spot; taking over for the face of a franchise can’t be easy, but Kim’s 3.7 fWAR showed he was up for the task.
Kim’s got a cannon of an arm (similar to his new teammate up the middle!!!!), he’s crafty, and he can cover a ton of ground. That third skill’s a nice perk to plug right into the lineup after losing another rangy guy in Story for a long periodically time.
Go ahead and watch this reel of his 2021 defensive highlights. Don Orsillo’s on the call as well, in case you needed any extra motivation to hit play.
A stellar defender and positive-WAR infielder on a team-friendly contract sounds like someone who would make Chaim Bloom ask for a cigarette after hearing about. Yet it begs the question: what’s the opportunity cost for Boston to acquire Kim?
Surely Kim fits the bill for the 2023 Red Sox, even if/when Story is back to full health. Shifting Story back over to second with Kim and his arm holding down short, while Christian Arroyo comes off the bench as a utility man, would probably make the most sense in that scenario.
It takes two to tango, however, and San Diego isn’t going to let Kim go easily—need I stress the “stellar defender and positive-WAR infielder on a team-friendly contract” aspect again?
While the Dads have spent the offseason building their positional player depth—the newly-acquired Bogaerts will take over at shortstop (Kim would presumably, at the time of publication, be making his way
downtown to second) while guys such as Matt Carpenter and Nelson Cruz have been brought in to fortify the bench—there’s still something left to be desired from their pitching staff. Adding Seth Lugo was a savvy move, but Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea have taken their talents elsewhere. Roster Resource has Lugo and Nick Martinez rounding out the rotation after Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Blake Snell.
Surely, General Manager AJ Preller would be open to ways to boost that group in order to keep up with the Senior Circuit Joneses.
Might one Tanner Houck make sense in a deal for Kim?
I like Tanner Houck’s upside, I really do. I think his fastball-slider combination is nasty and could be lethal in the bullpen for quite a long time. With enough fine tuning, I believe he could contribute to the Red Sox as a solid mid-rotation option.
But he’s not without his flaws: he has a nasty tendency of letting up some loudddd contact while walking a bit too many guys for my liking (Savant logged Houck in the 18th percentile in average exit velo and the 34th percentile in BB%; not great on either front!).
Tanner Houck and Ha-seong Kim both have their clear pros and cons in their game.
Tanner Houck and Ha-seong Kim both currently play for teams that have bolstered their positional groupings this offseason; the Red Sox have invested in pitching while the Padres have added more bats to rotate in and out of the lineup.
Tanner Houck and Ha-seong Kim both are on reasonable deals with multiple years of team control remaining. They both could be flipped in the future by any club with those years of control while still retaining a fair amount of trade value, or they could be kept in the fold as valuable pieces on contenting rosters.
You see what I’m getting at with this, folks? We could have some good ol’ fashioned quid pro quo, 3,000 miles apart. It might not be a likely order of business, but it’s one that certainly could end up being a win-win.
Could Boston have to cough up another prospect or two to get the trade done? Sure. Who would they have to be? I dunno man, ask AJ Preller. I know that flipping someone like Mayer is laughable in this proposal. I think giving up someone with loads of potential such as Miguel Bleis seems foolish, while a player outside of the organization’s top 40 prospect list might not move the needle for San Diahhhhhgo.
What it comes down to is this: Ha-seong Kim, in a vacuum, makes perfect sense for the Boston Red Sox. Parting ways with Houck may sting, but Kim’s presence would make the loss of Trevor Story sting a considerable amount less.
Besides: what else are the Sox gonna do at shortstop?