Following a delay in his medical paperwork that took a few days to sort out, standout KBO shortstop Ha-Seong Kim has now been formally posted by the Kiwoom Heroes. That means he is officially a free agent and can negotiate with all MLB clubs through the end of the year. Kim would be a near-perfect fit for the Cubs, but even what could end up being a very reasonable contract might be out of their reach.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 7, 2020
He just turned 25 so he’s much younger than most KBO or NPB players who are posted and still has several years remaining in his athletic prime. He 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. What’s more, he plays solid defense and his plate approach appears to be elite. While an acclimation period is likely, that particular combination of skills will help mitigate the transition to a higher level of competition.
In his breakdown of every MLB free agent (ESPN+) this offseason (prior to non-tenders), Kiley McDaniel ranked Kim No. 15 and wrote that he “might not have an above-average carrying tool.” Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs scored him as a 70 arm and 60 runner, saying he has everyday talent. Those factors and the overall financial climate create a disparity in salary predictions, with McDaniel pegging $20 million over five years and MLB Trade Rumors going with $40 million over the same period.
The higher of those two estimates would still be very reasonable, even when factoring in the posting fee. The MLB team that signs Kim must pay his former team a bounty 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. That means anywhere from $4-7.6 million, a pittance compared to what would have been paid under old posting arrangements.
For a Cubs team looking to get younger and cheaper while also achieving greater balance in the lineup, Kim checks a lot of boxes. No one is going to want to hear about how they could clear both salary and a spot in the field by trading Javy Báez, so I won’t go in depth on that. However, that possibility is more real than you might want to believe. Assuming Javy stays, Kim has played a lot of third base and can surely slide to second as well.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a move aimed at getting an impact everyday player right out of the gate, so it’s not as though Kim would need to have a spot immediately. KBO is roughly equivalent to Double-A or Triple-A in terms of the overall talent level and production there isn’t likely to translate directly. But for a Cubs team that appears to be eyeing 2022 and beyond in terms of the next phase, patience should be in much greater supply than the money they keep telling us they don’t have.
I fully expect several other teams to be much more aggressive in their pursuit, and that’s if the Cubs even bother to kick the tires at all, with the Rangers among those leading the charge. We’ll see, though, maybe there’s a surprise or two in store.