It’s safe to say that baseball consumers in the United States have a much different collective insight into the Korea Baseball Organization than they did this time last year. When the US was first brought to its knees by the pandemic and large-scale events nationwide were being cancelled by the minute early this summer, the KBO was one of the first major sporting leagues to resume play, with ESPN’s late-night coverage from South Korea providing some of the first live sports we’d seen in months on our TV streams.
We’ve known for years just how talented the league, and country, has been, as a burgeoning number of players have made the transition to Major League Baseball with success. Getting such increased access this year only served to further pull the curtain back on the league’s talent level, however, and it appears one of their brightest stars is set to be posted this winter with intent on signing an MLB contract.
As MLB Trade Rumors learned early Thursday, 24 year old shortstop Ha-Seong Kim will be posted by his club, the Kiwoom Heroes, effectively creating a bidding market for all MLB clubs for one of KBO’s brightest stars.
Resident ESPN prospect guru Kiley McDaniel later added that Kim is an ‘everyday type’ shortstop worthy of Top 100 overall prospect status, if he were eligible, and that’s certainly reflected in the kind of season Kim put up in the KBO in 2020.
Kim, who turns 25 in a bit over a week, posted a .917 OPS in 554 PA last year, a mark that ranked 12th overall in the entire league. That was fueled by 27 homers, tied for 5th most in the league with former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr (and just behind the 29 hit by former Cincinnati Reds outfielder Preston Tucker). While the best season of his still-young career, it was far from a serious outlier from his previous work, as he’s the owner of a career .864 OPS in 875 KBO games to date.
That’s a legitimate big league talent, one that will be getting a hefty chunk of money to come stateside this winter and immediately compete for playing time at a prime defensive position, one where the Reds themselves might have a need.
It will be quite interesting to see if the Reds continue their foray into signing Pacific Rim players, something they made a point of investing in back in 2017 under the helm of then head of Baseball Operations Dick Williams, who resigned his position just yesterday. Those ramped-up efforts resulted in a serious push to sign Shohei Ohtani out of Japan before he ended up with the Los Angeles Angels, and successfully landed Shogo Akiyama out of Japan just last winter. The Reds appear to still be committed to pursuing Pacific Rim signees, but will obviously be up against some tight finances this winter given the reduced revenues seen in 2020, and will have to weigh whether they can afford to wade into the kind of waters it will take to sign a player of his caliber at his age.
Kim, as noted in MLBTR’s article, is much younger than the players who usually accrue enough KBO time to be posted, and that paired with his ability to play a premium defensive position should make his posting fee rather lucrative.
For the Reds, they’re fresh off a 2020 season that saw their shortstops post a cumulative 0.1 fWAR, which was the 4th worst mark in MLB. The group’s collective wOBA, wRC+, and ISO all ranked among the 5-6 worst in the game, and that was even with Freddy Galvis, who is set to be a free agent. The mix of Galvis and Jose Garcia, a promising young talent who’d never played above the Advanced-A Florida State League prior to this year, simply didn’t get the job done well enough last season, and it remains to be seen whether the Reds are confident enough to simply turn the reins over to Garcia for a full season in 2021 or augment their options in moves this winter.
Kim, given his age and contract likelihoods, would be more of a long-term commitment, and I’m not sure that’s where the Reds are at the moment given Garcia’s promise and their financial status. There are numerous other more short-term options available this winter - veterans like Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius, and Marcus Semien, to name a few - should the Reds opt to head in a different direction.
Still, this adds a talented young option to the overall shortstop market, one that the Reds will likely be quite active in this winter, whether it’s in free agency or via trade.