NOVEMBER 28, 4:24pm: The Twins expect Park’s deal to be completed “soon,” a source tells Phil Miller of the Star Tribune. Park and the Twins have until December 8 to complete their deal, but Miller’s source believes it will be complete well in advance of that deadline.
9:23am: Park will head to Minneapolis on Sunday, with a brief stop in Chicago, Naver Sports reports (link in Korean; via Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press). In Minnesota, Park will meet with the Twins and take a physical. The Twins could potentially then announce Park’s signing next week. As Berardino notes, that suggests that, if Park and the Twins haven’t reached an agreement already, they appear to at least be fairly close.
NOVEMBER 9: In what has to be considered a surprise, the Twins were the team to submit the $12.85MM winning bid on Korean first baseman Byung-ho Park, reports Daniel Kim of KBS Sports in Korea (Twitter link). Minnesota will now have 30 days to negotiate a contract with Park and his agent, Octagon’s Alan Nero. If a contract cannot be reached, the Twins would be refunded the $12.85MM fee, and Park would return to Korea’s Nexen Heroes for the 2016 season.
Park, 29, is one of the top hitters in all of KBO, having slugged 105 homers over the past two seasons. He hit 53 homers in 2015 to go along with a batting line of .343/.436/.714, though it should be noted that the Korea Baseball Organization is a notoriously hitter-friendly environment. That didn’t stop Park’s former Heroes teammate, Jung Ho Kang, from posting strong numbers in his jump from KBO to MLB, however. Kang is the lone point of reference in terms of position players jumping from Korea to the Majors, and he went from a .356/.459/.739 triple-slash in Korea to an impressive .287/.355/.461 in his Major League debut (while playing in Pittsburgh, where PNC Park is a disadvantageous environment for right-handed power).
Park isn’t a perfect fit on the Twins’ roster, as Minnesota currently has Joe Mauer at first base and Trevor Plouffe at third base, which has relegated the highly impressive Miguel Sano (a third baseman in his own right) to designated hitter for much of his young career. However, Sano has recently worked out in left field, and there’s always the possibility that the Twins could trade Plouffe, whose salary is rising through arbitration and who has just two years of club control remaining before he hits free agency. That would leave third base open for Sano, freeing the Twins to rotate Park and Mauer (who has a full no-trade clause) between DH and first base.
Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote over the weekend that Park was unimpressive when facing Cuban pitching in the Premier 12 tournament this weekend despite the fact that he wasn’t facing plus stuff. That was a sample of just nine plate appearances, though the 1-for-7 result (plus a walk and a HBP) wasn’t as concerning for Badler as the fact that Park swung and missed eight times. Badler does praise Park’s defense at first base, suggesting that he looks capable of providing good defense there. Strikeouts figure to be a part of Park’s game if and when he jumps to the Majors, as he punched out in about a quarter of his plate appearances over the past two seasons in Korea.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of scouts who expect Park’s power to carry over to the Major Leagues. Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald tweets that he spoke to an evaluator who rated Park’s power an 80 (on the 20-80 scouting scale), though he did note that the right-handed hitter might struggle with inside fastballs (Twitter link). I recently spoke to a non-Twins scout that said there’s “no doubt” the power will play and called Park surprisingly athletic, suggesting that Park could deliver something along the lines of Mitch Moreland’s 2015 production in the Majors. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports also tweets that he spoke to one team that pursued Park due to encouraging marks in his exit velocity and home run distances, which led the club to believe he could succeed in the Majors. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince spoke to a scout that saw Park in Korea and graded his power a 70 and his defense at first base a 55 (Twitter link).
If Park ultimately lands with the Twins, he’ll add to a growing core of controllable position players. Sano burst onto the scene in 2015, hitting .269/.385/.530 with 18 homers in just 335 plate appearances. Minnesota no doubt would like to pencil Park and Sano into the middle of its lineup as a pair of formidable right-handed sluggers to anchor the lineup for years to come. That pairing would be complemented by Brian Dozier, who looks to be an annual source of 20+ homers at second base as well as the emergent Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario in the outfield. None of that includes top prospect Byron Buxton, who is of course widely believed to be the center fielder of the future in Minneapolis.
The larger question for the Twins this offseason will be whether or not they can sufficiently upgrade their starting rotation and bullpen in the same manner they’ve upgraded the lineup in recent years. While catching and shortstop are potential areas for upgrade this winter, the Twins will also certainly keep their eyes out for pitching upgrades. Their surprise win for Park’s negotiation rights figure to be just the first step in a heavily active offseason.