Saturday, April 2, 2016

Two players from Korea

Hyun Soo Kim didn't get an extra-base hit in spring
training for the Orioles, and now his no-demotion contract
has put the O's in a dilemma.
Byung Ho Park, who figures to be the Twins' designated hitter, wasn't the only transferred Korean star testing himself in American baseball this spring on the Florida Gulf Coast. The Baltimore Orioles have outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, and he is at the center of an intriguing drama.

Paul Molitor, the Twins manager, has said he has seen little indication in spring training that Park is overmatched against MLB pitching, which is a legitimate concern for a KBO transfer. The Korean Baseball Organization, the top league in South Korea, is not a particularly rigorous level of pro ball, and big hitting numbers are commonplace.

Kim, on the other hand, struggled in exhibition play for the Orioles. He was hitless in his first 23 at-bats and slashed .182/.229/.182 in 44 plate appearances. He hasn't appeared in a game in a week, and the Orioles want to send him to the minors.

The problem is: They are contractually forbidden to do so. Kim's two-year, $7 million deal guarantees him a spot on the 25-man roster. Reports this week had the Orioles asking the 28-year-old outfielder to waive that clause, and Kim declining to accommodate them. The O's face a noon Sunday deadline to set their roster for their Monday opener against the Twins, and it appears they will either have to carry a player the manager thinks he can't use or eat the entire contract and posting fee and release Kim. Neither choice is welcome.

It's worth noting that Pittsburgh stuck with Jung Ho Kang last spring when the infielder hit .200/.280/.444 last spring and then hit .182/.208/.436 through April 28. The rest of the season he hit .293/.363/.474 and took on a regular role on the left side of the infield before suffering a leg fracture. Kang's experience had the Twins anticipating early struggles for Park in his transition to American ball. I don't know what the Orioles expected from Kim in March, but no power whatsoever probably wasn't it. Kang at least showed some pop in his transition period.

Park slashed .273/.293/491 in his first 55 exhibition at-bats. I've seen conflicting reports on his contract status, but considering that Kim and Kang had no-demotion clauses, I would expect that Park's does as well. It hasn't been a issue.

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