MINNEAPOLIS -- In a surprising move, the Twins designated slugger Byungho Park for assignment to make room for reliever Matt Belisle on Friday.
The Twins, however, are hopeful that Park remains in the organization, as his contract is likely to keep him from being claimed on waivers. Park, who joined the team before this past season from the Nexen Heroes in Korea after submitting a winning posting fee of $12 million, is owed $8.75 million over the next three years and has a $6.5 million option for 2020 with a $500,000 buyout.
So any team that claims Park would be on the hook for at least $9.25 million, which would be a risk considering Park hit .191/.275/.409 with 12 homers and 24 RBIs in 62 games before a demotion to Triple-A Rochester and season-ending hand surgery in late August. So there was some strategy to Minnesota's decision to designate Park, although it's still possible a team could take a chance on the two-time Most Valuable Player in the KBO -- who hit a combined 105 homers over his final two seasons in Korea.
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"We'll see how it plays out," Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. "There's some time before we have to make decisions. But I think Byungho will have a better showing than he did last year. Any time a player transitions, there are always challenges that come along with that. We're hopeful for him. I know he's put in work and time this offseason, so we'll see where it goes the next few days."
Park, 30, showed some promise last year with his power, but he struck out 80 times in 244 plate appearances. He fared better at Triple-A Rochester, hitting .224/.297/.526 with 10 homers and 19 RBIs in 31 games.
When Park made contact, however, he hit the ball with authority, as measured by Statcast™. Of his 123 balls put into play, 18.7 percent were classified as barreled, which was the second-highest rate in the Majors behind the Yankees' Gary Sanchez. He also had an average exit velocity of 97.2 mph on fly balls and line drives that ranked as the 10th-best mark in baseball.
"The challenge from coming overseas is not easy, and he handled himself professionally," Falvey said. "I would expect to continue as a young player to grow and get better. From a distance, we saw some of that power. We know that. There's a lot of areas of growth going forward. We'll see where he goes this year, but I'm hopeful for him."
Park is part of a crowded corner infield for the Twins that includes fellow first basemen Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas and third baseman Miguel Sano. If Park does get claimed, it would help alleviate that logjam, and it could open up an opportunity for the Twins to sign a veteran bat, like Mike Napoli.
If Park doesn't get claimed, he's expected to come to Spring Training competing with Vargas to be the club's regular designated hitter. Falvey, though, declined to get into details about how Park took the news.
"We're not commenting on specific conversations with a player, but any time these decisions are made, it's challenging for players," Falvey said. "We'll continue to look forward, and with the way the transaction works, we have some time to make some decisions."