Korean superstar Byung-Ho Park was inexplicably DFA’d off of the Twins last night. I’m not entirely sure why – he’s blocked by Kennys Vargas and Joe Mauer, sure, but you’d think the Twins wouldn’t be in a position to throw away a player with upside. The weirdness of the Twins front office aside, Byung-Ho Park is an extremely interesting case going forward.
Signed to a four-year deal after absolutely dominating the KBO (he was the best hitter in the league three out of his last four years in Korea, and won MVP in 2012 and 2013), Park had a whole lot of hype when he came stateside. See this article by Jeff Sullivan from around the time he signed with the Twins: even from the stat people, Park’s 80-grade power was coveted.
When the Twins signed him to a contract worth $12 million over four years, conventional wisdom was that the Twins had managed a massive bargain, on the same level as the Pirates and Jung Ho Kang’s contract. He was supposed to be one of the centerpieces of an emerging, young Twins team.
Alas, that’s why we play the games. The Twins ended up being terrible, and Park’s performance was one of the major reasons for that. Park started hot, with a 119 wRC+ through April, but the massive red flag that was his strikeout rate (30.5% in April, which is absurdly high) caught up with him fast. In May, he hit .205/.305/.373 with a 32.6% strikeout rate. In June, he hit .136/.224/.303 with a 35.5% strikeout rate.
He chalked much of this up to a lingering wrist injury, which is definitely encouraging for his prospects going forward. But that K-rate fits with the scouting report: in Korea, he averaged around a 24% K rate, which was always scary in a league pretty equivalent to AAA.
That’s all the rope the Twins were going to give him, and on July 1, they sent him to AAA. He missed most of the last half of the season with a wrist injury, and the Twins apparently didn’t see enough out of him to warrant keeping him on the roster.
So why should the A’s get him?
Park’s strikeout problems are obviously extremely concerning. I’m not going to understate that, it’s bad. But with 80-grade power, solid plate discipline, and a history of success in a very good league, there’s a ton of upside here.
It’s worth noting that a significant portion of Byung-Ho Park’s issues are BABIP related. He only had a .230 BABIP, despite hitting the crap out of the ball when he made contact. You can expect that to rebound to around .300 given his ability to hit the ball hard and his batted ball distribution.
A .300 BABIP should get him to a respectable batting average and OBP. And if he does even moderately solve his contact problems – even if he just keeps his K rate below 30% – that’ll translate to a comfortably above-average batting line, given his power.
That’s a lot of ifs, which is why this is a gamble. But the fact that he hits the ball as hard as he does gives him a rare skill that he can build on as he adjusts to American baseball. That’s worth taking a gamble on.
We know the A’s are at least looking for that upgrade at 1B/DH: they specifically targeted RHH sluggers in free agency this year, being connected to guys like Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion. While the addition of Trevor Plouffe seems to have killed that, there’s still room for a similar player without cutting into Ryon Healy’s playing time.
Park fits on the A’s roster pretty perfectly as a Yonder Alonso replacement ( Healy gets to play the field everyday as a 1B, Park fits in as DH). And with his contract – 3 years, $9 million – there’s no reason not to take that chance. Even for a team like the A’s, that’s pocket change for a player with 80 power.
Would you rather have a player with massive, untapped upside like Park under team control for three years, or would you rather have a player like Yonder Alonso on a one year contract? The answer should be pretty clear, and since Park should be available for nearly nothing, it’s a obvious move to make for the A’s front office.
And man, he’s got 80-grade power.
2017 is probably not going to be a good year in A’s baseball. Injecting a bit of fun into it with a player like Byung-Ho Park can only make things better, and if it doesn’t work out, there’s no downside. He can play everyday without interrupting the youth movement, and if it does work out, suddenly you’ve got a very good trade chip that can augment it.
Besides, DHs given up by the Twins have a pretty solid track record.