Twins' move for Park completely worthwhile
The Minnesota Twins made a 13-game improvement in 2015. Widely picked to finish fifth in the American League Central, they finished second, and were in the hunt for an AL Wild Card berth into the final days of the season.
But the Twins aren't showing any signs of complacency. Instead, they have taken the first offseason opportunity to improve themselves.
In something of an upset, Minnesota submitted the winning bid (reportedly for $12.85 million) to negotiate with Korean slugger Byung Ho Park. The Twins now have 30 days to reach a contractual agreement.
The $12.85 million is believed to be the second-largest amount paid for negotiating rights with an Asian position player, behind only the $13 million that the Mariners paid to negotiate with Ichiro Suzuki.
Park, 29, hit .343/.436/.714 with 53 home runs and 146 RBIs in 140 games for the Korea Baseball Organization's Nexen Heroes in 2015.
How might Park's performance in the KBO translate to the Major Leagues? The Twins can be encouraged by the example of Jung Ho Kang, who went to Pittsburgh from the KBO in 2015, signing for $11 million over four years.
Kang played 126 games for the Pirates, who qualified for the postseason. He played third base and shortstop at a competent Major League level and produced a slash line of .287/.355/.461 before a knee injury ended his season in September.
Park, a right-handed-hitting first baseman, is listed at 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds. He hit 105 home runs over the past two seasons while striking out more than once every four at-bats.
Minnesota's aggressive pursuit of Park was not completely expected given the fact that the club appeared to be set at first base with Joe Mauer, the incumbent at the position.
But the Twins have some room for maneuvering that could at least open the designated hitter spot for Park. For the second half of the 2015 season, that role was taken by the promising slugger Miguel Sano, who could be a fixture in the middle of Minnesota's lineup for years.
If the Twins move Sano to third, the position he previously played, that would apparently make Trevor Plouffe a candidate for a trade.
The Twins have also said that Sano is expected to play some left field in the Dominican Winter League this offseason. If he can handle that position, Minnesota has another option, at least for the near term.
The inevitable question would be: Why bother signing Park at all when he primarily plays a position that's already taken? The all-purpose answer at this point would be: Why not?
Power has become an increasingly precious commodity in the contemporary game. Estimate -- conservatively -- that rather than hitting 50-plus home runs in Korea, Park hits 20 to 25 per season in North America. That kind of power production on the free-agent market would cost a lot more to purchase than the Twins are going to pay for Park, even factoring in the purchase of the negotiating rights.
It is true that the Twins had a negative experience with their previous signing of an international player, Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Nishioka never fully caught on here and eventually walked away from the third and final year of his contract to return to Japan.
But Park has a significantly higher ceiling than Nishioka, and Kang has shown that a leading Korean position player can successfully make the transition to the Majors. With a relatively small risk, Twins executive vice president and general manager Terry Ryan and his staff have taken a cost-effective run at adding an impact bat.
This is not yet a done deal, but the attempt is completely worthwhile.