Monday, November 9, 2015

Making Sense of the Twins winning bid to negotiate with Korean First Baseman Byung-Ho Park

According to several reports that were later confirmed by the team, the Twins have placed the highest ($12.85 Million) bid that was accepted by the Nexen Heros, for the right to exclusive negotiate a contract with 29 year old First Baseman Byung-Ho Park.   On paper, with the presence of Joe Mauer, Trevor Plouffe, Miquel Sano and Kennys Vargas, investing on another 1B/DH bat, and especially right handed, makes little sense.  Why would the Twins do it?  What was Terry Ryan thinking?  Let's examine the possibilities:

First of all what he was not thinking:  Moving Mauer to Catcher, Sano to Left Field, keeping Plouffe at Third Base and potentially use a rotation of Parks and Vargas at 1B/DH, supplemented by a heavy dose of Arcia, is not happening, basically because Mauer is done catching.  This hypothesis should be dismissed before it starts to get formed.  I believe that Terry Ryan saw Byung Ho Park as a unique talent and he thought something on the lines of 'let's get him, and we will figure where he fits later', which is a totally rational and opportunistic approach, albeit the apparent Mauer/Park dilemma has fewer solution than the Plouffe/Sano dilemma.  So, let's figure where he fits later.

How unique is Park?  Park is a player who have been improving each and every season from his age 25 season when he was the starting first baseman for Nexen Heros (was drafted and played his first 4.5 seasons, with a 2 year hiatus from 2007 to 2008 for his Army dury, by the LG Twins who traded him in the middle of the 2011 season as a 24 year old.)  His OPS increased from .866 in 2011, to .954 in 2012, to 1.039 in 2013 to 1.119 in 2014 and to 1.150 last season, when he produced a .343/.436/.714 slash line with 53 HRs and 146 RBI in 140 games.  Those are Bary Bonds on steroids numbers, folks...

How realistic are those expectations and how those crazy KBO numbers may translate into MLB numbers?  I will likely do a more in-depth analysis with several data points when and if Park officially becomes a Twins' player, but right now we have a very good comparable: his former teammate Jung Ho Kang who moved from the KBO to the MLB playing for the Pirates last season.  In 2014, his age 27 season in KBO, Kang hit .356/.459/.739 in 501 PAs with 149 hits, 36 doubles, 40 HRs, 68 BB and 106 K.  Last season with the Pirates, he hit .287/.355/.461 with 121 hits, 24 doubles, 15 HRs, 28 BB and 99 K in 467 PA.  His rates at KBO were:  Hit 29.7%, double 7.2%, HR 8%, BB 13.6%, K 21.1%.  His rates at MLB (with relative fractions to the KBO) were: Hit 25.9% (.87), double 5.1% (.71), HR 3.2% (0.4), BB 6% (0.44), K 21.2% (1).  Utilizing these as guides, we could roughly (very roughly, but it is in the ballpark) expect Byung Ho Park to hit something like: .278/.336/.442 (.778 OPS) with 157 hits, 25 doubles, 21 HRs, 34 BB and 161 K in 622 PAs.  Those numbers (other than the Ks) are definitely better than what the Twins got for Torii Hunter (.702 OPS; whom Park might essensially be replacing) and slightly better than Plouffe's (.742 OPS; whom Park might end up replacing.)

What will it take to sign Park?  We have Jung Ho Kang's contract for a guide.  The Pirates signed him for 4 years / $11 million guaranteed ($2.5M, $2.5M, $2.75M, $3 and an optional 5th for $5.5M with a $250K buyout) and their winning bid was $5 million, so the total guaranteed cost of the contract was 4/$16M.  I think that it will be reasonable for the Twins to sign him to a 4 year ($3M, $3M, $4M, $4.5M) with an optional fifth year at $6 with a $500K buyout.  This will be a 4/$15M contract for the player, and adding the fee a 4/$28M contract for the Twins, most of it front loaded with the posting fee.  The annual cost for the Twins will be at around $7 million, which is $3.5 million annual savings for what they paid Hunter, a little less than what Plouffe will make on arbitration and a considerable $3-5M savings over what they would have take to re-sign/extend Plouffe. 

So in other words, this is likely what Terry Ryan was thinking: Better production than what he had in 2015 at 2/3rd of the cost, and most of it front loaded in a way that he would not have to pinch more pennies when Sano hits arbitration.  Where would he fit? Let them sign him first, and we'll figure where he fits later, but here are a couple of things to think about:  Park is a plus defender at first base with a plus arm and Mauer in the past 2 seasona has a .774 OPS as a DH vs..717 as a first baseman.  Terry Ryan was adamant about Park being the Twins' DH, but you never know. So there might be a plan for that as well, after all... 

Let the negotiations begin and meanwhile enjoy every single home run that Park hit in 2014 in this video:


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