Would Byung-ho Park Make Sense For the Pirates?

The Nexen Heroes will post first baseman Byung-ho Park on Monday, according to Yonhap News Agency (via MLBTR). This news isn’t a surprise, as Park was expected to be posted this off-season after the huge success that Jung-ho Kang had with the Pirates in 2015.

The Pirates were linked to Park back in August, with two high level front office members scouting him. Technically they could have been scouting anyone, including a few other players who are expected to be posted this off-season (they’ve also been linked to a Korean closer), but their aggressiveness last off-season with Kang suggests they’d be looking at everyone, Park included.

One big issue with the Pirates going after Park is that he would require a multi-year deal, and they’ve got a first baseman of the future in Josh Bell, who projects to arrive by the middle of the 2016 season. Bell made the transition to first base in 2015, and while the defense still has some work to be done, the offense saw some big strides with Indianapolis at the end of the year. That coincided with an adjustment Bell made to his leg kick, leading to a .946 OPS in Triple-A over 145 plate appearances.

Bell is still going to need some work at the start of the 2015 season. The primary work will be with his defense, although he’s going to need to show that his late season hitting was legit, and he’ll need to continue to work on his swing from the right side of the plate, which often is awkward looking and leads to some poor results compared to his numbers from the left side.

This all means that the Pirates will be looking for a first baseman at the start of the 2016 season, assuming they don’t keep Pedro Alvarez, or go with Michael Morse as their starter. And with the success that Kang had last year, it would certainly be appealing to try and get Park to fill that role, and provide some insurance in case Bell isn’t ready by mid-season. However, that would be an expensive insurance policy.

Back in September I wrote about how Kang has opened up the market for KBO hitters to make the jump to the US, and how he has opened up the market. The Pirates won the bidding to negotiate with Kang for just $5 M. They paid $11 M more to get him under a four-year deal, with an option year. All things combined, $16 M paid for four years of service is incredibly cheap, and would mean Kang only needed to be a good bench player to justify his deal.

After Kang’s success, Park will almost certainly cost more. Travis Sawchik had a good look at the possible cost in a recent article, with Park’s posting fee possibly doubling Kang’s cost. There’s also the contract, which might go up, although Park wouldn’t have much leverage, only being able to negotiate with one team.

Let’s just say that Park costs double what Kang ended up costing, which would be a total of $32 M when you include the posting fee. Let’s also say that he gets the same four-year guaranteed deal. That would make him an $8 M a year player. On the open market, you’d need about 1.3 WAR per season to justify that deal. That’s not much, and an average first baseman could easily put up that production.

The problem is that it would be difficult for Park to match that going forward if he’s replaced by Bell. Kang had the advantage of versatility, meaning that even if he didn’t become a starter, he could provide value off the bench as a utility infielder. Park is stuck at one position. If it turns out that he’s a decent first baseman — worth his contract value, but someone you’d upgrade over — then the Pirates would be stuck with a very expensive bench player who would receive very little playing time.

The flip side to this is that if Park broke out in a big way, the Pirates would then have an excess of first base talent. Josh Bell could always move back to the outfield in that case, although he put on weight in his move to first to add more power, and would have to reverse that to play the outfield again. The Pirates also have their long-term outfield in place, and a few top prospects in Double-A next year (Austin Meadows, Harold Ramirez), so there’s not a big need for Bell in the outfield either. They could also opt to trade either Bell or Park following the 2016 season if this happened.

If the NL added the DH after the 2016 season, that would solve either problem. It would provide Park a place to hit if Bell turns out to be a better option, and would provide room for both hitters if Park breaks out. The possibility of a DH being added seems to be increased with all of the recent pitcher injuries at the plate, but is nothing to bank on yet.

If the Pirates did sign Park, they’d be setting themselves up for a potential high risk/high reward situation. There’s no guarantee that Park will hit the same way as Kang, and if he doesn’t, then the Pirates will waste a lot of money when they’ve got a top first base prospect in Triple-A. With other needs to fill this off-season, that approach might not make sense. If it did work out, they’d have an excess of top talent for the position, which is never a bad thing, and something they haven’t experienced for a long time at first base.

All we know now is that the Pirates have scouted Park. Whether they’re aggressive enough to win the bidding this time around, especially after the price will go up due to Kang, remains to be seen. They don’t necessarily need Park, at least in relation to their needs at other positions. But getting him could pay off in a big way, just like Kang last year, although with more risk involved in this situation.

  • Tim, I think your point about the DH is the key. The Pirates FO has traditionally been about getting in front of the curve. Park comes in next season and plays 1B. Bell develops in AAA. 2016 the DH arrives. I think they believe that will happen. Now we have a legit DH and 1B option with real power. I think it makes a lot of sense and it is additional protection should Bell fail.

  • Adding power at a reasonable cost is a good move anytime for any team. The question is simply how much?
    I’d consider a posting fee of $10 million, and a contract very similar to Kang’s @ $12-16 million over 4. Say a total of $50 over 4 years would be a great bat to have until he or someone else needs to be moved for another priority. An easy move at that cost if he’s remotely productive.

  • The Pirates should trade for Goldschmidt is about a big of a dream as the move Cutch to 1B chatter. I would certainly go after Park, if he comes over and hit for an .800OPS with 30 bombs, then we have an excellent problem. That problem would be one hell of a trade chip to acquire a need. Pirates need to be aggressive on this guy. 15M seems like a good bid.

  • Instead of Park I would like to see the Bucs use Bell and some of their young talent to get Goldschmidt from the D-Backs. He is terrific defensively and would provide genuine protection for Cutch. Additionally, I would make every effort to sign Jordan Zimmerman and Happ to the staff. With these three additions the Bucs make a strong push to the Series.

    • What ever would make you think the Diamondbacks would trade Goldschmidt at this point in time ? SMH at this kind of dreaming.

      • I have no reason to believe the D-Backs would trade Goldschmidt, but when Tim asked does Park make sense, I provided my assessment on the situation. If I’m going to invest so much for Park an unknown commodity to MLB, I would rather make a strong investment in Goldschmidt.

  • Bell is a high floor, high ceiling prospect. His floor is high because he makes hard contact, recognizes pitches, does not swing much at bad pitches. The problems: Can he learn to play first base, can he bit more HRs.

    Bell ought to become a good ML hitter. He might even become a great ML hitter.

    Park, on the other hand, hits for power but strikes out a lot playing against players of a lower quality. He hits HRs and presumably plays good defense. But, if his ceiling is high, his floor is lower because of his contact problems.

    There is no choice between the two: The Pirates have Bell. To acquire Park does not entail losing Bell. It means putting money into a risky player and not having that money to use to extend Polanco, to pay for FA pitchers, etc. The opportunity cost that comes with Park is not the loss of Bell, it’s the inability to make moves that the team might want to make that would require using the money they would use to sign Park.

    So, Park is the riskier and more expensive prospect who will also encumber money that can be used for other players.

    I’d not spend more to acquire Park than the team spent to acquire Kang. Even that expense seems excessive. Bell, simply put, appears to be the better bet, and he’s all but costless in the present and near-term future tense.

    • Honest question, Steve. If Josh Bell was an international free agent right now do you really think teams would bid more on him than Park?

    • piraterican21
      October 29, 2015 8:07 am

      To further your point, park is 29’years old playing in a league that expert claim is similar to AA and striking out at a 25%, and don’t forget smaller parks!!! I will speculate that a 29 year old Bell will best Park numbers under the same conditions.

      • It’s almost like the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t literally just sign a player who made these *exact* comments look silly.

        • piraterican21
          October 29, 2015 8:46 am

          That’s like saying that every Cuban signing has been a hit! Abreu and Piug had success, Piug is getting run out of town, Abreu had regress, Runey Castillo is a bust in Boston, hector Oliva is projected to be average, Soler had a ok season. But getting to back to the argument, there are signs that Park could be a disaster that could prevent the Pirates in future years to add or extent/resign better players.

      • This doesn’t make me a Park advocate, but no, Bell wouldn’t best many of Park’s numbers. Right now Bell’s swing is more of a square up the bat and ball, hit hard line drives. He doesn’t get underneath and generate back spin, which leads to more homeruns.

      • Yep. Imagine a mature Bell playing in the Cal League!

  • The answer: No, he would not. The Pirates paid a signing bonus of $5 million to Josh Bell to be the “1st baseman of the future” (well, actually “an outfielder of the future” at the time of the signing). It would make zero sense to “block him” with another player who will require a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. They just need to get through the 1st 2 1/2 months with a stop gap (not ideal solution, but they have had a glaring hole at 1st base since….1979?)……They missed the boat on the player they should have tried hard(er) to sign, Jose Abreu. So it goes! I suspect Josh Bell will open a lot of eyes and will be perfectly fine at the position long term.

  • I would rather see the Pirates allocate the money they might spend on Park to upgrading the starting pitching in slots 3 to 5.

  • I’d do everything I could to win this bid. Park hit .343/.436/.714/1.150 with 53 Hrs and 146 RBI. We saw how Kang translated to MLB and Park has better numbers in Korea than Kang. Which really doesn’t guarantee success but let’s face it, Josh Bell is no guarantee,Gregory Polanco made some serious strides in the 2nd half but he is no guarantee either . I think he will be a star but ya never know. McCutchen is most likely going to be traded in 2 years. Marte moves to CF someone has to move to LF . I say go get him. I always thought pitching wins in the playoffs and it still does but good hitting has been beating good pitching this post season more than usual. The Pirates need to take it to the next level and spend a bunch this off season because you know the Cubs and Cards are going to. Gotta keep up. Bid 15 million on Park. Imagine this guy hitting behind McCutchen next year? Only issue is ,where are you going to get your left handed hitters? Polanco is the only sure fire left handed hitting starter penciled into 2016’s lineup

    • “Gotta keep up” is a literally never a reason PGH will use to spend more. They might spend some this offseason, but it wont be due to looking over at CHC and making sure they meet some quota.

    • The Pirates are going to win by developing talent internally, making trades to fill holes due to injury/poor performance, and make sensible FA signings. To suggest otherwise, is pure fantasy.

      • You could’ve copied and pasted this response back during the Jose Abreu pursuit. I’d bet money you had the same thoughts back then. Tell me the Pirates wouldn’t be a better baseball team right now with Jose Abreu.

        • So would be a number of other teams that more or less passed on Abreu ,

        • Why stop at Abreu Mr. Monday Morning QB/GM?

          And by the way, in the real world, GM’s have to do their job confined within a payroll structure dictated to them by the guy writing the checks. He doesn’t get to freely spend other people’s money like Monday Morning GM’s.

          • It’s called learning lessons on the job, Scott.

            There were clearly lessons to learn from missing on Abreu, just as there were for missing on Kang. A smart man admits when he’s wrong.

          • As for your condescending payroll structure diatribe, add up all the money wasted on failed platoon options over the past few years and tell me that’s a better use of resources than signing someone that’s actually valuable at an incredibly reasonable rate, such as Mr. Abreu.

  • What a *fantastic* retort to the “small market advantage” article early this week.

    If your baseball people recommend Park as they did Kang, it makes all the sense in the world to sign him.

    Josh Bell is a good prospect, but not anywhere close to the kind of high floor star that makes you close the book on the position for the next six years. A team with money signs Park adding depth to the options at the position – no, not the Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez, Mike Morse, Pedro Alvarez, Travis Ishikawa, Andrew Lambo depth Pirate fans are used to talking about – and *at worst* is a complete flop yet *still* hardly a blip on the radar screen in a +$150m payroll. Your owner might not be happy, but that money doesn’t come close to actually altering what you can do to your team otherwise.

    Nobody seems to want to talk about what happens if Josh Bell *doesn’t* work out.

    • This might be looking too far ahead, but if Bell didnt work out (and assuming that means he got at least a year, if not slightly more to truly flame out) id suspect Kang becomes a high priority to re sign and shift to 1B. You’d have a need at 3B, but our system is (and hopefully still would be) better able to fill that spot than 1B.

      I dont think we are totally without options if Bell flames, but we are thin in depth at that spot. Personally i still dont think throwing 30-40 million at Park makes sense unless they are confident he will be more than a fringe middle of the pack type.

      • I do agree, for what it’s worth. That kind of risk for a player who won’t provide any additional value if the bat doesn’t play probably isn’t the kind of risk the Pirates should take given their restricted payroll.

        I like your idea to resign Kang, but I’d rather keep him at 3B where he’s an asset and move one of the 3B to first in the event that Bell isn’t the answer. We’re talking 2018 before you even see the Front Office consider this, though.

        • Oh absolutely, a ways off. It would be interesting to see if they think, at that point, one of the young 3bmen has the bat profile to stick at 1B.

    • Stetson Allie? Ok, I’m joking.

      Jose Osuna is a legit internal option, but most likely if Bell flops, then they acquire a proven major leaguer while they teach Meadows to play 1B.

  • I like the idea, although I have not seen enough of him. If they trade Pedro and Morse, they can save a significant amount of salary $$$. With that savings they can post the fee and possibly sign Park to a 4 year deal similar to Kang. I am sold on Bell, but you would have him around for Peanuts. They could platoon them and let Bell grow into the position. If Park turns out to be a stud, you have a problem every team would love to have.

  • With the trouble we’ve had finding 1B help and with the position our team is in as an organization…I definitely think you don’t rely on Bell and get Park if you can…have a position of strength instead of question marks.

  • piraterican21
    October 28, 2015 3:57 pm

    I rather have Bell, I do believe he will solve the 1b issues for years to come. But in the mean time will love for the Pirates to trade for Mark Texiera to man the position next year.

    • Always thought Tex was exactly what they neededat that position. Won’t happen, but that’s the template in my opinion.

  • From what I have seen and read I have serious doubts that Bell will ever be able to play a decent first base – so anointing him as the “first baseman of the future” seems a bit premature.

    Park would provide a solution to two big problems for the Pirates – 1. Who will play first base every day at an acceptable level defensively. 2. Who can replace some of the loss in power that happens when Pedro gets shipped to the AL.

    The posting fee will be high – perhaps over $15M – but the winning team, will be able to keep the annual cost reasonable – no more than $10M – perhaps as low as Tim’s $8M number.

    I predict he will do fine – hit 30+ HRs in his first year – just hope it is with the Bucs

    • Man, I don’t know about 30. These grainy KBO clips seem to show a lot smaller parks than the North Side Notch of PNC. Although Kang did show some pop, I can recall a half a dozen balls at least he hit this year, where you could tell he was thinking “Man that’s 10 rows deep, in Korea”. Here in the states it’s a can of corn.

      PNC Park, where right handed power goes to die.-Andrew Lane

    • How good does he have to be on defense if he’s hitting around .900 OPS? 1B defense is hardly a good reason to discard an elite hitter like Bell promises to be from left side of plate. Especially when playing 81 games/year at PNC.

      • Well Josh Bell doesn’t project to be much more than an .800 OPS hitter, so I’m not sure where these .900 numbers are coming from.

        • Are you talking next season NMR? Because I was responding to Bruce saying he will never be a decent defensive 1B. And I am of the opinion Bell has a realistic opportunity to develop into a .900 OPS hitter a couple years from now playing half his games in PNC.

          • No, I’m talking upside potential.

            You’re talking about a very, very high level of production in today’s game.

            Even if we assume Josh Bell will be a .400 OBP player with a .300 batting average, marks only four players in the entire league posted last year, he’d *still* have to post an isolated slugging percentage of .200, something he’s never come close to achieving in the minor leagues.

            That’s a wildly optimistic expectation to place on any hitter.

            An .800 OPS from a Pirate works out to something around a 125 wRC+. That’s something all Pirate fans should be *extremely* happy to get out of Bell.

  • It’s quite obvious that we have not had a long term solution at first since the 90’s. What is wrong with going after Park aggressively? If we get him then we can move Pedro and possibly Morse to see if the Park acquisition yields the same results as Kang. If it doesn’t then we have Bell as a fall back. If Park is the real deal then you have a good decision to make with both him and Bell. I do agree that him being a RH will have an impact with his power in PNC. I believe that Tim referenced this in his first article but he will only play half his games here. I’m in favor of an aggressive pursuit of Park.

    • I’m with you, Mr Cleaver, er ah, Bill.

      You can NEVER have too many good players.

      • Please call me Ward, Edward. If PBC evaluated him and believe he can transition to the MLB I think they should be all in. I would like to have a 1B who can hit and field his position. Kang probably should know how that transition will play. The only thing is the RH bat.

      • How do you know if he’s a good player or not?

    • Im not opposed to trying to get Park, but i think their evaluations of his swing are what should be trusted most. He has K issues that could absolutely stunt his already limited value (in terms of what he can play to give you value). They spent enough time scouting him to have a grasp on whether they feel its an issue that will follow him or if his other skills make him worth a 15 million posting fee+a multiple year contract.

      I’d be throwing a posting of around 12 million at him, and if a team really wants to pay 15+ just to negotiate let them. Unless their scouting is largely in on him, that wouldnt be passive but also wouldnt overpay for a guy they have reservations on from a scouting standpoint.

      • It’s really hard to say. I mean hypothetically if they think his swing holds up and he could be anywhere near as productive as kang he is well worth 15 or 20 signing fee plus the likely salary. But that is big if

    • The potential problem is (as Luke S discusses below) that it is possible he has holes in his swing and won’t translate to MLB like Kang did. I’m NOT saying that’s the case, I really don’t know. I could be wrong but I thought I have read somewhere that there are some serious questions about his swing and it doesn’t match up like Kang’s did. It would be real interesting to see Dan Farnsworth take a look at it.

      • If you remember there were major concerns about Kang’s swing and leg kick and whether he’s be able to catch up to major league fastballs.
        I’m guessing there is going to be a lot of disparity in the bids since some teams still may not be sold on the Korean players (after all Kang being successful does not establish a pattern) and everyone’s scouts are going to have different opinions.
        That being said, I’d like to see the Buccos make an aggressive bid. If they get him, having too much talent is never a problem and I really think the DH is coming in the next contract (God help us).

        • Even with the leg kick, Kang never showed the issues with Ks that Park does. Its a valid concern for a guy who will be getting nearly all his value from his bat.

          Park also walks more, so the question for the scouting team is will the walks continue (thus giving him plenty of value) or will ML arms being better than that league result in higher K totals.

          • Didn’t Kang have like a 21% K rate and Park’s around 25%?

          • Yeah, just checked. Kang was at 20% and 21% in his previous two season. Park was at 25% and 26%.

            To categorize those two different is an overstatement.

            • I do wonder the nature of his walks. Just a guess, but if he’s the MVP of the league he was probably pitched around a lot.

              I venture to guess too the Pirates have an extra year of data on Park, while they were watching Kang. That plays into a little too.

            • Its big enough in a league that isnt ML quality that its an issue. He’s striking out more than Kang and thats a major factor in his ability to translate. Id not worry as much if he brought more defensive value, but since he’s mostly bat its a bigger worry than it was with Kang.

              • No, it’s not. Not with that kind of power.

                Again, you’re taking generalities and applying it to a specific situation, which was the *exact* mistake people made with Kang. Inferior league, so his strikeouts *have* to go up, right? How’d that work out?

                • The flip side of that is you also use broad strokes to assume the 1 example we have is indicative of other players that may make the jump he did. Every player will be different, and at this point pointing to Kang is going to be flawed both ways. Maybe he is indicative of how that transition will go for upper level hitters in that league, but also maybe not.

                  • No, I’m not.

                    If you actually read what I wrote, multiple times, I said to trust the baseball professionals that correctly scouted Kang and decided he had the swing and tools to make the transition.

                    Follow the process that lead to Kang, not Kang himself.

                    • Oh well we are in total agreement on that. Trust your scouting and determine his value accordingly.

      • I love reading about mechanics, so if you can think of where you read those articles please share.

        People were so incredibly wrong about Kang that it shows few truly understand quality hitting mechanics. But I think what folks missed most in Kang’s situation was the bat speed; also very difficult to judge. Remember the scouts that thought Jose Abreu’s bat was slow?

        People saw Kang’s leg kick and load, the strikeouts, and assumed he’d be over-matched by Major League velocity. Clearly didn’t happen, and that’s because of bat speed. He didn’t have to cheat on fastballs. And as we saw with Kang, better pitching *does not* mean more strikeouts as long as the underlying skills are there.

        • One guy who didn’t miss was farnsworth. Went out on a limb in winter predicting great things saying kang had elite swing mechanics. Was not at all concerned with leg kick. He also predicted great things for jd martinez before his turnaround among other calls.

          • Exactly. Very few out there truly understand swing mechanics. Most still parrot what they heard from their Little League coaches.

  • If Park were LH, I’d be much more receptive to it. I think the Pirates are just doing their due diligence, getting info on him. I really see Mozeliak and the Cards making a competitive bid, after missing out on Kang plus their first base need. I’m sure some AL teams will be aggressive.

    Just scouting the stat line, he looks to be more of a free swinger from Kang. Not sure how the power translates to PNC.

  • I’m guessing more than double the posting fee. I just have a hunch it will be at least 15m and possibly closer to 20m as duquette speculated. I don’t think pirates will be interested or put in a bid at those levels. But who knows?