DEC. 31, 6:06pm: The Padres have announced Kim’s signing. His deal includes a mutual option for 2025. The option could increase the value to $39MM, Jeeho Yoo of Yonhap News reports. Yoo adds that the Heroes will receive $5.25MM as the posting fee.
5:21pm:Kim’s actually guaranteed $28MM, Jon Heyman of MLB Network tweets. He could earn a maximum of $32MM based on incentives for plate appearances.
DEC. 28: The Padres have reached an agreement to sign free-agent infielder Ha-Seong Kim, reports Dennis Lin of The Athletic (Twitter link). Kim, a client of ISE Baseball, will receive a four-year, $25MM contract according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Kim, 25, became available to MLB clubs earlier this month when his KBO team, the Kiwoom Heroes, posted him for bidding.
Kim debuted as a teenager in the KBO, allowing him to push for his team to post him at a much earlier age than most stars in South Korea and Japan. Because of his youth and excellent track record, Kim was among the more desirable free agents on the market this winter, landing seventh on MLBTR’s Top 50 list back in November.
Throughout his career to date, Kim has been an above-average player in Korea, but his game soared to new heights in 2019 even as the KBO altered the composition of its ball in order to cut back on the league’s hitter-friendly environment. Since 2019, Kim has batted .307/.393/.500 with 49 home runs, 62 doubles, three triples and a 56-for-62 showing in stolen base attempts. He’s been 42 percent better than a league-average hitter there over the past two seasons, by measure of wRC+. Back in May, Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser wrote that signing Kim would be akin to inking a Top 100 prospect. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel and FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen have expressed similar sentiments, calling Kim a potential regular at second base, shortstop or third base in MLB.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that San Diego’s plan is to play Kim at second base and move 2020 Rookie of the Year runner-up Jake Cronenworth to left field. Of course, at this point it’s not wise to make any assumptions about just how the Padres’ roster will take shape. General manager A.J. Preller agreed to acquire Blake Snell from the Rays just last night and is simultaneously “deep” into talks to acquire Yu Darvish and perhaps some catching help — either Willson Contreras or Victor Caratini — from the Cubs. Until we know the players headed back to Chicago in that potential swap, it’s hard to gauge exactly how things will look.
At this point, however, it should be expected that Kim will be utilized on a near-everyday basis — be it as the primary second baseman or as an oft-used super-utility player. Kim is an above-average defender at shortstop, per Longenhagen, who cites “expansive” lateral range and a plus-plus throwing arm as the primary factors working in his favor. Generally speaking, most players capable of playing a strong shortstop are well-equipped to provide good defense at either second or third base, so Kim has the potential to impact the Friars on both sides of the ball.
There figures to be an adjustment period at the plate, given the gap between KBO pitching and MLB pitching, but Kim struck out at just a 10.9 percent clip in 2020. Even with inevitable regression as he gets used to better velocity, those bat-to-ball skills should give him a chance to hold his own right out of the gate.
Whether it’s Darvish or someone else, other moves figure to follow now that agreements to bring Kim and Snell to San Diego are in place. Preller has shown in the past that his additions come in rapid succession, and his activity over the past 24 hours seems to suggest that we’re in the midst of another deluge of Padres moves.