While we’re already expecting a fairly large number of unscheduled free agents to join the market this winter by way of COVID-induced non-tenders, Major League Baseball could also get significant additions to free agency by way of international players coming to the States.
One player, in particular, might just be the prize of the class, and he’s reportedly on his way.
Young, Talented, Available
Meet Ha-Seong Kim, a soon-to-be 25-year-old Gold Glove, base-stealing, high-contact, offensively well-above-average shortstop set to make his Major League Debut for some lucky team in 2021. He is likely one of the best “prospects” in baseball:
This is big: a 25-year-old everyday type shortstop. Pacific Rim scouts were telling me this guy should have made my Top 100 prospect list (if eligible) last winter. Putting together FA list but could be top 10 in this shallow class. FA target for rebuilding clubs. https://t.co/bSErg7WCBB pic.twitter.com/zRxis6XCtJ
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) October 8, 2020
As you can see by his stats, Kim has been an impactful player throughout his time in the KBO, leveling off with a consistent 140 wRC+ over his last two seasons, while always hitting above average overall. Best of all? Gotta love those trends in strikeout rate, walk rate, and power. He keeps adding a bit more power and walks while striking out less and less.
He’s also considered a plus on the bases and in the field, with every ability to stick at shortstop long-term.
I think Kyle Glaser’s notes on Kim from back in May – before his excellent 2020 season, mind you – do a good job of illustrating his skillset and projected abilities:
He’s a 24-year-old shortstop who hit .307/.389/.491 with 19 home runs, 104 RBI and 33 stolen bases in 37 attempts for Kiwoom last year. Kim is a solid all-around player who projects to stick at shortstop. He is a good athlete with good instincts at the position and has the average arm strength to stay on the left side of the infield. He projects to be an above-average hitter and has enough power to hit 12-15 home runs per year in the majors.
Kim is likely to face an adjustment period at the plate when he first arrives in the U.S., but he has the athleticism and twitch to adjust and eventually hit major league velocity. He is a plus runner who adds value on the bases as well.
Again, if that write-up makes you excited, remember that Kim went on to slash .304/.396/.522 (140 wRC+) this past year with 27 home runs and 21 more stolen bases in his age-24 season. Because of his age and talent level, Kim would obviously be a top-100 prospect and one of the top-10 free agents available this winter.
Of course, just because he has become available and can negotiate with all 30 teams at once doesn’t mean that process looks similar to a normal MLB free agent. Specifically, whenever Kim does eventually sign a new deal, the winning team will have to pay a fee to his current KBO team, and that fee is on-top of (not withdrawn from) whatever contract Kim signs.
Posting Fee Schedule:
20% of the contract’s first $25M
17.5% of the contract’s next $25M
15% of anything beyond $50M
So let’s say, for example, that Kim signs a deal worth $75 million (which is completely made up, because, frankly, I have *no clue* what a player like him will be able to command given the current financial landscape). The team would actually pay out $88.125 million total ($75M to Kim and $13.125M to the KBO Kiwoom Heroes). That’s just something to keep in mind.
But I’ve strung you along long enough … let’s talk about the Cubs.
Ha-Seong Kim and the Chicago Cubs?
Do I think Kim is an interesting potential Cubs target? Well, of course! He’s young, talented, and available at a position of theoretical need – by which I mean the Cubs have a hole at second base and have a shortstop, Javy Báez, heading into his final year of team control.
The Cubs could theoretically 1) play Kim at second base alongside Báez for a year before moving Kim to short long-term and letting Báez walk, 2) play Kim at shortstop immediately with Báez shifting to second for a year, before letting Báez walk, or 3) keep both in their long-term plans up the middle by signing Kim and eventually extending Báez, playing these guys at whichever position suits them best. (Drools.)
But given the Cubs financial situation this offseason, I really don’t know how much money will be available, even for a seemingly perfect fit like Kim. The Cubs likely don’t have zero money, but every indication is that things will be tight. Could they make an exception for a very young, long-term piece like Kim? Might they view this and next year’s offseason budgets together as one unit, since so much money will come off the books after the 2021 season? Maybe I’m stretching because I want the Cubs to add a potentially perfect bat to the mix? Yup!
The Javy Báez Impact
Of course, even if Ha-Seong Kim does not wind up a realistic target for the Cubs, that doesn’t mean that his availability on the free agent market wouldn’t impact them at all. Specifically, it could affect them by way of pushing Báez slightly closer toward an extension.
Consider that this offseason, shortstops Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien, and Andrelton Simmons will all be free agents. And next offseason, shortstops Trevor Story, Brandon Crawford, Jose Iglesias, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Báez will all be free agents. That is a LOT of starting shortstops becoming available over the next 12-14 months (i.e., a lot of competition on the market). Might the existence of another, even younger talent like Kim push Báez to extend sooner than later to avoid being left on the outside looking in? I could see it.
Increasingly, we see the guys viewed as the tip-top of the market getting tip-top dollars, and then everyone else getting squeezed out. Right now, especially after this past season, it’s hard to argue that Báez is the tip-top guy among that list of names. Playing out the 2021 season and hitting free agency could come with a lot of potential reward for Báez, but also a lot of risk.
Ultimately, the dream scenario for the Cubs is probably locking up Báez AND grabbing Kim while you can – especially considering the Cubs top positional prospects play completely different positions (catcher (Miguel Amaya) and center field (Brennen Davis)), and it’s not yet clear if Nico Hoerner is an everyday guy or a super-sub long-term. And given the financial realities of the franchise at the moment, that might be a heck of a lot more doable than dreaming on a massive deal for Seager, Lindor, or Story.
In any case, for now, the headline is that Kim is coming, and a whole lotta teams are really going to want him. We hope the Cubs are one of those teams, and we’ll be tracking this story closely in the coming weeks.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.