News arrived Monday that the Minnesota Twins won the negotiating rights to Korean slugger Byung-ho Park, submitting a bid of $12.85 million. However, all along the A's were believed to be a factor in the bidding, and indeed Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that Oakland was "competitive in their bidding" and may even have been the runner-up.
The A's won't be signing Park this winter, so my point isn't to analyze him specifically as a prospect -- that's the Twins' problem now. He's a 29-year-old first baseman who basically hit like peak A-Rod for the last three years in the Korea Baseball Organization, and that's all you really need to know for this conversation. What I'm more curious about is what this development says about the A's and their thinking entering the offseason.
The bottom line is that I'm happy to see the A's going after a guy like Park -- high on potential, low on track record, and with a cost that aligns more with the latter than the former. On Saturday, I wrote that the A's should not spend draft picks to sign free agents who received qualifying offers, because I think the extra draft help is more important right now than the mediocre veterans who are within Oakland's price range. But that doesn't preclude someone like Ben Zobrist or Scott Kazmir, who would cost only money, and it definitely wouldn't rule out an international signing like Park.
International free agents intrigue me in particular because they have the best chances to become serious bargains. The most obvious example for A's fans is Yoenis Cespedes -- Oakland was able to get him because he was a relative unknown, coming from a different league in a different country with a different talent level. Outbidding everyone else only meant increasing the annual salary a bit higher into seven-digit territory. That's a bidding war the A's can afford to take part in, and it paid off when Cespedes became a star. There's still the risk that the player won't pan out, but plenty of MLB free agents fall off the map with their new teams and plenty of MiLB prospects flame out just the same. Perhaps the risk is higher on the international market, but the price is often more manageable and it's not like other sources of talent are hugely reliable either.
Furthermore, this would be the perfect time to invest in a reasonably priced high-risk/high-reward player like Park, much like 2012 was with Cespedes. Oakland only has three long-term contracts at the moment, with most of that money coming off the books over the next two seasons. They have fluidity in their lineup, with a few spots up for grabs and a lot of versatile players who can mix and match into various different starting nines. And, facing a season in which contention is possible but only if a lot of things go right, Park could represent yet one more high-upside gamble to go with a roster full of optimism but short on safe bets.
The other thing we can infer from the bid on Park is that the A's could be in the market for another hitter. As noted, there is space for a new addition, especially at 1B or LF, and power would seem be the most attractive tool to target in that hiring since it is still relatively lacking in the lineup. With that mindset, why not bid on Park? If you win the bid, you either end up with a new slugger on a contract you like, or you don't come to terms, get your posting fee back, and no one else can sign him till next winter. There is no bad scenario in there. And if you don't end up with him for one reason or other, then it's still early enough in the offseason to explore other options. But if you want the best possible chance for an impact slugger without spending piles of money or losing a draft pick, then Park is the place to start.
So, the A's heads were in the right place, but this particular pursuit didn't work out. That's okay, because they didn't need to get this guy. They don't necessarily need to add anyone entering a win-maybe year, depending on how you feel about the chances of on-the-cusp hitters like Rangel Ravelo, Renato Nunez, and Matt Olson. And that allows them to pick and choose to find the right fit (if any) rather than panicking and paying top dollar to premium free agents like Colby Rasmus or Chris Davis who still carry plenty of risk themselves. Oakland swung and missed on Park, but at least they waited for the right pitch.