Baltimore Orioles’ Signing of Hyun-Soo Kim Going South
It is beginning to look like Hyun-Soo Kim‘s MLB career is going to be over before it began. The O’s want to send Kim to the minors to start the 2016 season after a Spring Training in which Kim batted .182 with a .411 OPS. His defensive play was reportedly as bad as his offense.
I had my doubts about the two-year $7 million contract the Orioles signed Kim to, particularly because it did not allow the O’s to send Kim to the minors without Kim’s consent. At the time of the signing, I didn’t think the $7M total was a particularly big risk, but I wondered why very similar KBO star Ah-Seop Son didn’t get even a $2 million posting bid this past off-season. The flip side of that is that O’s may have been over-valuing Kim.
I’ve been following Kim’s career for some years now, and one thing that concerned me was that he had his three best KBO seasons, taking into account yearly overall offensive performance in that league, in his age 20 to 22 seasons. He then took a big step back and didn’t appear to come close to his earlier performance level until last season.
I think Kim’s current situation with the Orioles is a cautionary tale about the short-sighted way many MLB teams make decisions. Kim clearly got his two-year $7M deal in a burst of irrational over-exuberance after Jung-ho Kang‘s big rookie season last year.
I am reminded how MLB reacted to the success of Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, two extraordinary talents by the standards of Japan’s NPB. Briefly, MLB teams were hot for Japanese position players at the level of talent just below Ichiro and Godzilla. Most of these signings didn’t pan out, and since then the pendulum has swung back in the other direction, with MLB teams now reluctant to sign Japanese position players even at the right price.
At least in terms of KBO players, Kim’s apparent failure will not hurt other KBO superstars much if Byung-ho Park has a reasonably successful season with the Minnesota Twins. If Park succeeds, MLB teams will have a much more reasonable understanding going forward about which KBO players are worth the investment.
KBO is not as good as Japan’s NPB, so it’s going to take the very best players to make the jump directly from KBO to MLB. Guys like Park may be able to do it, while guys like Kim are much less likely to have success.