If you were one of the people who tuned into the Korean Baseball Organization this year while Major League Baseball was shut down due to COVID-19, you’ll probably recognize the name Ha-Seong Kim.
Kim, an infielder for the Kiwoom Heroes, was one of the league’s best hitters during the 2020 season, slashing a .310./402/.530 line with 28 homers, 103 RBIs, and a 61-to-70 strikeout-to-walk rate.
Over at FanGraphs, Dan Szymborski wrote that Kim is planning to make the jump across the Pacific Ocean this winter to the Major Leagues. Kim expressed interest in coming over to the Majors last winter but ultimately decided to ride out the final year of his contract in the KBO.
Now, after a huge season at the plate, Kim should garner plenty of interest from Major League teams as a free agent.
The posting rules for Asian leagues are different as of 2018. Teams no longer bid on players, as you’d remember from situations like Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka. Instead, posting teams will get 20 percent of a player’s first guaranteed $25 million, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million, and 15 percent after that.
Circling back to Szymborski’s post at FanGraphs, Kim’s projected numbers according to ZiPS based on his production in the KBO are pretty damn lofty. Szymborski’s projections have Kim being worth somewhere between 3.5 and 3.8 wins above replacement over the next five years.
This kind of free-agent addition makes all kinds of sense for the Blue Jays.
Kim is only 25 years old, so he’s a prime-aged free agent that you pretty much never see here save for anomalies like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, who broke into the league as teenagers.
He also plays an important position of need for the Jays, shortstop and third base. The team has Bo Bichette at short, but there isn’t an immediate fix at third. Long-term that could be Austin Martin or Jordan Groshans but there’s no guarantee that either of those players will be ready by 2021 or even 2022.
Finally, there’s the obvious connection here of Hyun Jin Ryu, who’s one of the most successful Korean players ever to make the move from the KBO to MLB. Ryu, of course, inked an $80 million deal with the Blue Jays last winter, so he could potentially provide a positive reference for Kim as he decides which team he wants to join.
There’s obviously no guarantee that Kim can make the jump seamlessly from Korea to the Big Leagues but it’s still worth a risk. Adding a free agent in their mid-20s like this who plays a position of need is a great opportunity.