The outfield isn't a forefront priority for the Detroit Tigers right now. Their focus is on fixing the bullpen and starting pitching. That's not to say it's not important, it's just not as much of an immediate need as the other two concerns are. Well, an option recently popped up on the grid: Korean outfielder Hyun-soo Kim, who plans on signing with a major league team this offseason, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
As we've noted before, the Tigers are a right-handed heavy lineup. They're also depleted in left field since they had to ship Yoenis Cespedes off to the Mets during the trade deadline. Tyler Collins is a left-handed bat, sure, but his fielding abilities are significantly lacking to go along with extreme splits at the plate.
The Tigers' interest in signing a right-handed bat for left field is odd considering the lack of lefties at the plate. They need some balance without forfeiting power or defensive ability -- at least to some degree. Cespedes, Jason Heyward, and Alex Gordon are drawing all the interest and talk, but Kim is another angle entirely.
Gordon is an attractive option for left, but he's four years Kim's senior, had a down year, spent time on the disabled list, and will still cost a pretty penny this offseason. Cespedes isn't likely to cost any less, nor is Heyward -- especially after the season he had in St. Louis.
Who is he?
Kim is a 6'3, 220-pound left fielder out of Seoul, South Korea, who has spent the better part of 10 years on the Doosan Bears, a "tough offensive environment" for Korea -- though not so much by comparison in the United States. A left-handed bat who throws right-handed, Kim is known for his ability to get on-base at a high rate. He's a solid contact hitter who can also hit for power, and has a solid defensive glove.
He has spent his entire professional career with the Bears, signing as an undrafted player with the team straight out of high school. Kim later helped his country take home the 2008 Olympic Gold medal. At 21, he went to the 2009 World Baseball Classic and hit .393/.514/.500 with seven walks in nine games, finishing in a tie for fourth with Cespedes in the tournament for hits (11).
Why should we care?
The Tigers need a left-handed bat who can hit consistently without giving away that value in left field. Kim is one of the most consistent hitters in Korea, and he carries 10 years of professional experience to the major leagues. He brings a .318 career batting average to the US -- third-highest among active Korean Baseball Organization players. This past year, Kim hit .326/.438/.541 and tallied 101 walks, striking out just 63 times.
He can also play other positions when needed -- like first base. While Miguel Cabrera should be good to go next year, considering Victor Martinez's increasing age and weak bench options, Kim's versatility would be useful.
Another plus with Kim: he won't have to go through the posting system process and receive anonymous bids. That makes it fair and equal ground for the Tigers to take a stab at getting him. And considering he's only 27, whatever team gets him can lock him down for a longer time period without worrying about wear and tear quite as much as they would a 31-year-old Gordon or age-30 Cespedes.
From Passan's article:
One scout who saw Kim this season said he is an everyday option in left field -- and occasional fill-in at first base, where he played some last season -- whose game stands to translate well to the major leagues because he blends enough power with superior plate discipline.
"He doesn't have raw power like Park or Lee," the scout said. "But he's exactly what teams are looking for. He's just great at putting bat on ball. He's got a Royals-type offensive profile."
Why should we stay away?
If there's one big disadvantage, it's the cost. Kim isn't going to come cheap, especially after the recent success other Korean and Japanese players have had in the US. Add to the most recent $12.85 million bidding rights the Twins won for first baseman Byung-ho Park, and you have the makings of a pricey bidding war. With the likes of Cespedes, Gordon, and Heyward -- to name a few -- at the top of the tier to set the bar, Kim's abilities and youth will only drive the price up ... and up ... and up.
Also, there's also no way to know how he'll handle the transition from hitting overseas to the US, and that carries a risk. The KBO is more along the lines of the MLB equivalent to the upper minor league system levels. Their systems are improving but there's simply no way to know how Kim will fair until he actually plays with a US team. The KBO is a very hitter-friendly environment, and Kim's offensive numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, more so than his defensive capabilities.
Will he end up in Detroit?
Kim would be a near-optimal acquisition for the Tigers if he doesn't crash and burn. However, he could be expensive, and the Tigers don't have a history of dealing with players in Korea or Japan. General manager Al Avila did mention recently that the team would be "in the mix" for Hisashi Iwakuma, a right-handed Japanese starter who has been in the majors for four years -- all with the Seattle Mariners. But no one knows Avila's style yet.
Kim is young enough that it could work, and he's well worth the gamble. If you're going to test the theory on how those KBO numbers translate to the US, Kim is that player. He couldn't be more perfect for it. Even if he struggles at first, there's enough of an adjustment period to shield the team. Whether Avila takes that gamble is tough to predict, but Kim could serve as a well-rounded solution in left both in the present and down the road.