Plenty of bids expected for KBO star Park
Slugging first baseman hit 53 home runs for Nexen Heroes in 2015
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Between formally signing his contract with the Pirates and joining them at their Spring Training camp in Florida in late February, Jung Ho Kang went through early drills with his former Korean team in Surprise, Ariz.
One day, as the Nexen Heroes were traversing from one diamond to another, Byung-ho Park approached an MLB.com reporter, pointed to his own chest and with a broad grin uttered perhaps the only English word he knew: "Next."
Nexen's power-hitting first baseman could be close to fulfilling his own Major League Baseball prophecy.
The Heroes posted the two-time Korean Baseball Organization MVP last week and set a 5 p.m. ET Friday deadline for MLB clubs to submit blind bids for an exclusive 30-day negotiating window with him. According to reports out of Korea, the winning bid was worth $12.85 million, but no team was associated with the offer.
The bids for Park will far exceed the $5.1 million tender that enabled the Bucs to negotiate with and promptly sign Kang to a four-year, $11 million pact. Kang's MLB obsession was two-fold: Prove that he could adapt to big league baseball, and pave the way for countrymen to follow.
The infielder nailed it on both counts. He became a progressively vital member of the '15 Pirates, batting .310 with a .913 OPS between the All-Star break and his season-ending knee injury on Sept. 17. And due to his successful transition, MLB scouting of KBO stars, particularly of Park, intensified.
In early September, Kang inquired about the interest being shown his former Nexen teammate, and he was told it was "off the charts" compared to his own pursuit.
Because the bidding is a blind process, it is not known how many other teams bid for Kang, The bidders for Park are believed to exceed a dozen and include every club looking for an upgrade at first base.
Those of course include the Pirates who, ironically, may have priced themselves out of the bidding for Park with their success in helping Kang's transition.
The same question that shadowed Kang -- how will his power hold up against big league pitching? -- will also hang over Park. Kang gradually answered the question affirmatively -- 11 of his 15 homers came in the second half, and Statcast™ showed him to constantly be the Pirates' hardest hitter.
Kang's KBO high was 40 homers (in 2014), and the 29-year-old righty-hitting Park's resume is even louder.
Park's homer output has increased each of the last five seasons, reaching 53 this year, when he also drove in 146 runs in 140 games.
From 2012-15, he accumulated 173 homers while averaging nearly an RBI a game (492 in 529). As power hitters are wont to, he does strike out a lot (303 in 987 at-bats the last two seasons) but had phenomenal production in balls he put in play, considering his .343 average in 2015.
Park was the KBO MVP in 2012-13 and is the favorite to earn another trophy when the 2015 vote is announced. In 2014, he finished second in the voting.