Today officially opens up the posting period for players from South Korea’s top baseball league, the KBO. The period runs through December 14, so over the next month+, KBO teams can post a controlled player to MLB, and then the player can try to negotiate a deal with the 30 MLB teams.
Though there could well be others trying to come over, most eyes are on top young shortstop Ha-Seong Kim, a power-contact bat on whom we’ve been fixated for a good while now. We recognize the realities of the Cubs budget situation, but if they are looking to take a chance on longer-term value, it’s hard to find a better opportunity than a 25-year-old middle infielder who might cost less now than in a normal market.
The projections on Kim’s contract range from as low as just $20 million over five years (and add a few million for the posting fee) to over $50 million. Of course, in a normal market, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the big market clubs taking a swing on Kim at a much, much larger number, given the potential upside and rarity of acquiring a 25-year-old star for only money. Moreover, given Kim’s ability to play good defense at second or third base, plus his excellent baserunning ability, the downside risk might be that of a utility man. A very, very expensive utility man? Sure. But that’s better than the downside risk associated with a guy you were signing SOLELY for his bat.
But, about the bat, it’s just such a great fit for the Cubs. Kim shows good power, takes a ton of walks, and doesn’t strike out. Those will trend in the other direction in MLB without question, but he just turned 25. It’s not a lock that he’s done developing either. If the Cubs have any funds to use this offseason, this is where I hope they use them.
As you can see in the article here and in the charts below, Kim’s production the last five years in the KBO translate to strong MLB results for a young shortstop, and the projections going forward are even more enticing:
— Brad (@ballskwok) October 12, 2020
If you knew you were actually going to get that kind of production out of Kim the next five years, you’d probably be signing him for more than $100 million over those five years, no questions asked, even in the current environment. Of course, there is variance to the upside and the downside, and when you DO throw in the current environment, it’s virtually impossible to predict where the final price tag is going to go. Suffice to say, the data think Kim is probably going to be pretty good in MLB.
In addition to the data points, Kim also ranks as the top international prospect on FanGraphs’ scouting board (no real surprise there), with a value translation that pegs him somewhere around the top 50 to 100 prospects in baseball (but with much lower risk). To be able to get a player like that for cash, who is only about to turn 25, and who can slide right into your middle infield … these opportunities are extremely rare.
Also, while it matters less than his production, it’s gotta count for something: your franchise could instantly have a Korean baseball star. For organizations that seek to have worldwide appeal, that matters, right?
(I’m already thinking about how the Dodgers are going to snag Kim, let him play third or second for a year before Corey Seager walks, and then let Kim take over at shortstop. It’s what they do.)
I recognize the financial questions in trying to actually land Kim, but we’re gonna keep banging the drum that the fit is perfect even if the timing is not.
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!
A reminder on the Kim scouting report from BA, when he was ranked as the top MLB prospect in the KBO:
“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.”