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Nico's Current "Holy Grail": Korean Free Agent Hyun-Soo Kim

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The A's aren't done tinkering with the 2016 roster, but a few parts are coming into clearer focus: In is Jed Lowrie, probably out are either Brett Lawrie or Danny Valencia, Sonny Gray is indeed off the market and Oakland still has quite a bit of payroll flexibility to keep tinkering for next season and beyond.

Where the A's have holes depends on where you see Mark Canha, Jed Lowrie, an untraded Lawrie or Valencia playing. The good news is that if opportunity allows the A's to land a good 1Bman, they can move Canha to LF and if the chance to land a LFer falls in Oakland's lap they can put Canha at 1B.

So the question becomes more about who is available who can really help the A's in 2016 and beyond, maybe that one acquisition that can get the A's over the hump, at least on paper, from "interesting" to "definitely competitive". It's not going to be Jason Heyward, and it's not going to be someone who costs top prospects to acquire, but it still could be someone good if the A's are creative and resourceful. And if there are two things that accurately describe the A's front office, they are "creative" and "resourceful".

In 2012 while the rosterbaters were zigging, the A's zagged and signed Yoenis Cespedes from Cuba, enticing him with a shorter 4-year deal and getting what turned out to be a bargain at $9M/year. No one really saw that coming but it came, and that's kind of how the A's tend to do things. You might have seen a Rich Hill signing coming, but you probably didn't foresee a Jed Lowrie reunion.

My "holy grail" right now is LFer Hyun-Soo Kim, a free agent from Korea who will turn 28 in January. There is inherent risk involved in tapping into the international markets, as you are getting players who thrived at a level that is below the MLB standard, so even at their advanced age and experience they are essentially prospects like any hot-shot AAA player.

The last time Oakland ventured into an Asian market, they struck out with Japanese SS Hiroyuki Nakajima, who peaked when he referred to Billy Beane as "sexy" at his inaugural press conference, but who couldn't hit or throw and never saw the big leagues.

Kim comes with the risks of any international signing. He could be as successful as Cespedes, as unsuccessful as Nakajima, or somewhere in between. I don't know enough about the market to know what kind of a contract it will take to land him, but it is safe to say that it will be one the A's can well afford right now if they choose to hitch their star to his wagon.

Why is Hyun-Soo Kim my "holy grail"?

- Kim is a true free agent not subject to a posting fee. The A's do not need to win a private bid and then pay Kim on top of that. They just need to make Kim the most attractive offer, and the ability to pay him a contract, rather than pay a posting fee and a contract, should keep Kim in Oakland's price range with money still available to extend Reddick.

- Coming into his age 28 season, Kim is in his prime and figures to be at or near peak performance over the life of his first big league contract, with skills (contact, batting average, plate discipline) that age well.

- He plays LF (and some 1B) and bats left-handed, which fills the A's needs as well as can be. Be it for 2016 or for 2017-19, solve LF in a meaningful way and suddenly the team is looking a lot better.

- The number of competitors for Kim's services, and his price, should be supressed by the unusual number of talented LFers testing the free agent market this off-season: Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, Ben Zobrist, Gerardo Parra, and Dexter Fowler head up a deep class of LFers looking for a home.

But is Kim any good? Is he really good? How good is he? Of course nobody knows for sure, but what we do know is that Kim played in one of the tougher hitting environments in the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) and is coming off a 2015 season in which he batted .326/.438/.541. For his career, Kim has walked 597 times and struck out 501 times, a ratio you rarely see at any level of any league and a skill-set that predicts a better chance of success in MLB. His career slash line with Doosan over 9 seasons is a rather robust .318/.406/.488.

Add Kim to the fold and let's look at how the 2016 roster looks. I am going to assume that one of Lawrie/Valencia is traded, and based on current rumblings it appears likeliest that Lawrie will be moved so I have penciled in Valencia at 3B for now. Obviously if he's on the team Billy Butler is a DH, but I am ever hopeful that he won't be on the roster so let's dream.

Meanwhile, I won't speculate on what a Lawrie trade might bring back, but let's say it was an exciting AA pitcher or outfielder who might help the team in 2017-19, perhaps another strong reliever or more SP depth. Even without a piece for 2016, the 2016 team still looks plenty solid to me and where you may see redundancies I see necessary depth.

C - Vogt/Phegley
1B - Canha
2B - Lowrie
SS - Semien
3B - Valencia
LF - Kim
CF - Burns
RF - Reddick
DH - Crisp/Smolinski (also providing your 4th and 5th OFers)
UTL - Ladendorf (2B-SS-CF)
Fighting for a spot or providing AAA depth - Ravelo, Wendle, Sogard, Lambo, Muncy, Pinder, Olson, Nuñez.

Rotation - Gray, Hahn, Hill, Bassitt, Graveman (Brooks, Nolin, Manaea)
Bullpen - Doolittle, Hendriks, Parker, Dull, Pomeranz, Rodriguez, Nolin (Brooks, Alvarez, Leon)

How might the lineup look with these players in the mix?

vs. RHP

CF - Burns
LF - Kim
1B - Canha
C - Vogt
2B - Lowrie
RF - Reddick
3B - Valencia
SS - Semien
DH - Crisp

vs. LHP

CF - Burns
2B - Lowrie
C - Phegley
1B - Canha
3B - Valencia
DH - Smolinski
LF - Kim
SS - Semien
RF - Reddick

Not only do I quite like this look, but with a Reddick contract extension this is a core you might have (with the exceptions only of Crisp and Hill) under contract for two (Lowrie, Valencia) to four (Vogt, Gray, presumably Kim and Reddick) years or more (Semien, Bassitt, Graveman, Phegley, Canha, Burns, and soon Manaea, Olson, Pinder, Nuñez et al).

And all it cost you to get there was money, and not a king's ransom I wouldn't think -- certainly not compared to what it will take for a team to land the likes of Upton, Gordon or Zobrist. What will a contract for Kim look like and it is wise for the A's to put their eggs in that basket? I say "Yes, please!"