Though cost and positional issues may render any hope for his pursuit by the Cubs futile, it’s hard not to get excited about the news that the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes plan to post star shortstop Ha-Seong Kim this offseason. According to MLB Trade Rumors, Kim had previously expressed a desire to be posted and is now getting his wish after seven seasons in the KBO.
He was just 18 when he debuted and won’t turn 25 until later in the month, so he’s much younger than most KBO or NPB players who are posted near or well into their 30’s. As you can see from the stats below, Kim has been an above-average offensive performer in all six of his full seasons and has displayed a fair bit of speed to go with his pop. Even better, his plate approach appears to be elite.
Kim has hit at least 19 homers in each of the last six seasons while averaging a 10.3% walk rate and just a 13.6% strikeout rate. Take out his sophomore season and those respective marks both get better. Count just the last two and he’s walked more than he’s struck out.
Oh, and dude doesn’t just dink and dunk over the fence. He hits tanks.
Gocheok Sky Dome could barely hold this one 😳😳😳
— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) August 5, 2020
“Pacific Rim scouts were telling me this guy should have made my Top 100 prospect list (if eligible) last winter,” ESPN’s prospect guru Kiley McDaniel tweeted Thursday. “Putting together FA list but could be top 10 in this shallow class. FA target for rebuilding clubs.”
McDaniel isn’t the only one sold on Kim’s value, either. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs has him ranked as the No. 1 overall international prospect, two spots ahead of presumed Cubs signee Cristian Hernandez, with a future value of 50 on the 20-80 scouting scale.
“Explosive, compact-bodied athlete with natural doubles power,” reads Longenhagen’s scouting report. “Has been taking bigger hacks in KBO and hitting more homers without impacting his contact rates. More walks than K’s in 2020. 70 arm, 60 runner [emphasis mine]. Everyday talent.”
I’m sorry, but I can’t get over the “70 arm, 60 runner” part. That’s like Javy Báez-type talk, except with a player who’s even younger and appears to be a far more disciplined hitter. It’s hard to imagine Kim’s ceiling being as high as Javy’s, but that polished approach means his floor’s probably quite a bitter higher.
So am I suggesting the Cubs go after this guy to supplant El Mago? No, not at all, though it’s possible teams with deficiencies at shortstop could offer a more enticing opportunity once Kim is officially posted. Then again, the Heroes have used Kim at third base quite a bit over the last two seasons and it’s reasonable to believe he could handle second as well.
Though Kim played 12 games at third in 2018 and 36 games last season, his usage jumped to 49 games in 2020 due in part to the presence of Addison Russell. It’s weird that they’d move a guy in favor of an inferior player, but what do I know. Based on nothing more than scouting the box score, it appears as though Kim is much more comfortable at short, where he’s won multiple KBO Gold Gloves. That probably evens out with more experience, as he’s young and athletic enough to transition elsewhere if needed.
A young contact hitter with pop and speed seems like a perfect fit for the Cubs, especially if Kim can mash lefties. I was unable to find any information on his split stats, but my assumption is that he can hold his own because he’s a right-handed hitter. Of course, David Bote hit just .122 with a 45 wRC+ against lefties this season, so maybe it’s best not to assume. Either way, Kim looks legit.
The only problem is that several other teams could also use such a player and posting rules between KBO and MLB allow all 30 clubs to negotiate. Rather than having to put up the high bid in order to win exclusive rights, the team that eventually agrees to a deal with Kim will have a pay a fee to the Heroes based on the guaranteed portion of his contract. That fee is equal to 20% of the first $25 million, plus 17.5% of the next $25 million, and an additional 15% on anything beyond $50 million.
Just for the sake of ease, let’s say Kim agrees to a deal for $50 million over five years. That would mean $10 million in average annual value against the team’s competitive balance tax payroll, but the $9.375 million posting/release fee would be due right away. Even though it’s not part of the player’s salary, and thus isn’t subject to CBT calculation, that’s a decent little chunk of change and I’m interested to see whether owners are scared off by that in light of all their purported financial woes.
And keep in mind that Kim’s contract could be significantly larger, thereby inflating the release fee. If the Cubs are truly as concerned with both actual and CBT payrolls as everything indicates they are, both the potential AAV and the additional fee could keep them from going after Kim. Unless, that is, they focus on him rather than going after Tommy La Stella or other free agents this winter.
There’s also the possibility that they choose to non-tender one or more of their key players in order to free up money for Kim, though that seems like the kind of risk Theo Epstein would be loath to take. However things shake out, some club is going to have a young infielder who looks like he will be a damn good hitter even if the power doesn’t translate.