As soon as next week, 25-year-old shortstop/high-contact/solid-power bat Ha-Seong Kim could be posted by his team in the KBO, and start negotiating with MLB teams. We think he’s a very good fit for the Cubs’ needs, and his price tag might not actually be entirely out of their price range.
So, then, I remain firmly on the lookout for any and all Kim bits that I can enjoy, analyze, and share.
For example, Eno Sarris took a look at an aggregated set of the top free agent projections, and discussed five that intrigued him most. Coming in at 10th in the aggregated rankings, at a projected average contract of five years and $7 million per year (COME ONNNN, CUBS), Kim caught Sarris’s eye:
The scouting reports are as varied as the contract projections on this Korean 25-year-old shortstop. He is either a “5-foot-9 stick of dynamite” with “surprising pull-side power” and “thunderous physical tools,” as Eric Longenhagen had it at FanGraphs, or he’s “a nice-to-have utility piece that might not have an above-average carrying tool in the big leagues,” for the scouting crowd in McDaniel’s piece.
For our Keith Law, who ranked him the 17th-best free agent, Kim “has good hand-eye coordination and some power, but he gets long and his front side goes very soft in his swing, so hitting MLB velocity consistently could be a real problem.” An anonymous scout in the region addressed those concerns: “He would need to learn to get the front foot down quicker in order to adjust to the harder stuff in MLB. There have been times that I’ve seen him late on 90 mph fastballs because he got himself milliseconds late to set himself up to swing. He’s got the short enough stroke to adjust to the faster velocity.”
That last part there is probably the most important that we’ve seen, because the biggest risk for Kim’s bat is going to be the huge jump from an average fastball velocity in the KBO around 91-92 mph to an average fastball velocity in MLB that gets up into the mid-90s. If he’s unable to handle 97+ mph consistently, well, that’s not great, but that’s true of a lot of MLB players who still succeed overall. But if he can’t consistently handle 93-96 mph, then his bat simply will not translate at all. At least one scout there thinks he can make the adjustment.
As we’ve discussed and Sarris goes on to highlight, the stat translations love Kim, and see him as a future solidly-above-average bat in the big leagues, with the ability to play quality defense at shortstop, second base, or third base. That’s a guy you’d pay $100 million+ to acquire in a normal market when he’s just 25 years old. But (1) this market is not normal, and (2) we know that the downside risk with Kim is that the bat never becomes above average, and you wind up with a very expensive utility man. To me, given the organization’s desperate need to add upside offensive talent in their 20s (especially with good contact ability) makes the risk worth it if the Cubs can find some pennies in the couch cushions.
Again, I know the risk of the downside, but Sarris offers some context on that upside:
Twenty-five years old, with better-than-league-average offense at shortstop? Only Fernando Tatis Jr. and Willy Adames did that last season — you can add Gleyber Torres if you soften the plate appearance restriction. That sort of upside is worth the risk, probably, especially if the team that picks him up can pay less than ten million a year for his services. Even after they include the posting price, that would be a great bargain.
Of course, the risk that he’s the utility player is why the price is that low.