Major League Baseball has tendered a status check on outfielder Ah-seop Son of the Korea Baseball Organization’s Lotte Giants, reports Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. The status check is largely a formality, but an agreement between MLB and the KBO stipulates that if a team has interest in a potential KBO free agent (or a player that is eligible for posting), that MLB team must formally check the status of the player through official league channels. In other words, as Yoo points out, the status check indicates that at least one MLB team has expressed interest in signing Son this winter.
Some readers of MLBTR may recall Son’s name from two years ago, when KBO’s Giants posted him, but he did not draw a bid from a Major League club. At the time, Son was coming off a characteristically strong season at the plate, having batted .317/.406/.472 with 13 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 517 plate appearances. Excellent bating averages and OBP numbers are nothing new for Son, who has not batted lower than .306 and has not posted an OBP south of .370 since becoming a regular as a 22-year-old back in 2010. Yoo notes that Son’s career .325 batting average is tied for the league-wide lead among active KBO players.
However, Son’s two seasons since failing to draw a bid have been his two best campaigns yet. The 2016 season saw the left-handed-hitting corner outfielder bat .323/.418/.468 with 16 home runs and a career-high 42 stolen bases (in 46 attempts). This past season, Son clubbed a career-high 20 home runs and a career-best 35 doubles en route to a .335/.420/.514 batting line. He also swiped 25 bases in 33 attempts. He’ll turn 30 next March.
Unlike the last time he was made available for MLB teams, Son is a legitimate free agent following the conclusion of the Korean Series (the KBO’s championship series). He will not be subject to the KBO posting system or to international bonus pools, making him free to sign with any MLB team for any amount. That doesn’t guarantee that he’ll sign a Major League contract, of course; Son’s former teammate, Jae-gyun Hwang, was a superstar in the KBO but settled for a minor league pact with MLB’s Giants last offseason due to tepid interest on the open market.
Son, by all accounts, is limited to the outfield corners. He’s been compared to Nori Aoki in terms of skill set: limited power but excellent bat-to-ball skills and above-average speed. In his KBO career, Son has struck out at just a 15.4 percent clip, as compared to an 11.4 percent walk rate. Those marks were even better in 2017, as he walked in 12.4 percent of his PAs and whiffed at just a 14.3 percent pace.
That Son was able to show improved discipline while also logging a career-high in homers is certainly an encouraging trend for his stock as an international free agent this winter, but it remains to be seen exactly where he’ll fit into the market. J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton (assuming he opts out of the remaining four years on his contract) and Jay Bruce are the top corner names available, and teams interest in that trio won’t look at Son as a fallback. But, Son could provide teams looking at the next tier of free-agent outfielders — Carlos Gomez, Jon Jay, Jarrod Dyson, Howie Kendrick, etc. — with an affordable, albeit more uncertain option to pursue.