Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Byung-Ho Park Shakes Up Twins

Last week, the talk of Torii Hunter's retirement press conference was the idea that Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan were ready to dabble with Miguel Sano moving positions. No, he wouldn't be playing first base, but instead, they asked him to play the outfield this winter. I already explained what that may look like here, but yesterday the Twins added a new wrinkle: Byung-Ho Park.

The Korean Baseball Organization superstar Park is definitely a fan of flair. The bat-flipping aficianado (who's since said he's given up the theatrics) has hit 210 homers in nine KBO seasons. Last year with Nexen, Park hit 53 home runs and drove in a ridiculous 146 runs. It was quite the follow up to a 2014 season in which he parked 52 homers and drove in 124 runs. As in most cases though, the numbers should decrease somewhat when heading to the big leagues.

Jung Ho Kang, the rookie infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, played in the KBO with Park until this past season. In 2014, both playing with Nexen, Kang launched 40 homers and drove in 117 runs. In his first year with the Pirates, that translated to 15 long balls and 58 runs batted in. However, there's more to this picture than simple power numbers.

On the positive side for the Twins (as well as Park), the newest KBO prospect is regarded as not just another free agent, he's elite. His power numbers are what fuels his production, but they are also something that every major league team coveted. With nearly every squad in on the bidding, it was the Twins $12.85 million tag that narrowly edged out the competition. In scouting Park, Minnesota saw the elite player he had been talked up to be. As in all cases though, there's always some cause for concern.

In 2015, the Pirates new Kang would have a learning curve when taking to Major League Baseball. While he started out slow, it was the end of his year that paid dividends. A slow start could be expected for Park, but the biggest concern is the strikeouts. While the homers are impressive, the 28 year-old slugger struck out 161 times while walking just 78 times in 2015. A year prior, he whiffed 142 times drawing 96 walks. Prior to coming over to the big leagues, fellow Korean Kang never struck out more than 109 times in a season.

So where does that leave the Twins and Park? Right now, there's a few things to consider. The first thing to consider is whether Minnesota can sign the Korean superstar. I'd wager the answer is yes, but it's going to cost them. Kang was posted last season for a $5 million fee, while Park just garnered a $12.85 million total. Pittsburgh signed Kang to a 4 year, $11 million contract, and Park is going to far surpass that. Per MLB Trade Rumors, Park's total could look something like 5 years, $40 million. Payroll isn't an issue for the Twins, and that deal makes a lot of sense with the team looking to contend. Park wants to be in the big leagues, and things should trend towards being mutually beneficial for both parties.

Next is what Park looks like for Minnesota. There's very little reason to believe he's going to sniff anywhere near 50 home runs in his first season. What the Twins are hoping for is a middle of the order power bat. If Park can slug something like 30 long balls and drive in close to 100 runs, Terry Ryan will be ecstatic. If the bottom falls out, Park could end up looking like a poor man's Mark Reynolds, striking out over 200 times, and hitting around 10-15 homers. Realistically, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Finally, Park is a man without a position. He's a first basemen that profiles almost solely as a designated hitter. Joe Mauer is going to be the Twins first basemen until at least 2018. Right now, designated hitter has been vacated with Miguel Sano moving to the outfield. Something like a Sano, Park one-two punch in the middle of the lineup looks like a good thing for the Twins. Expect an Opening Day outfield of Sano, Aaron Hicks, and Eddie Rosario, with Mauer at first, Trevor Plouffe at third, and Park DH'ing. The losers in this scenario are none of the names mentioned, but instead both Oswaldo Arcia and Kennys Vargas.

When the dust settles, I'd expected Byung-Ho Park to be the newest member of the Minnesota Twins. Terry Ryan clamored for a power bat, and he's going to get it. Minnesota is stacking talent, and the position shuffling is going to be done on the run. Where things stand currently, there's no doubt the envelope is being pushed for the 2016 season, and you can bet a lot of balls will be leaving the Park.

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