Phillies New Brass Should Check Korea


During his introductory news conference, new Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak discussed the club’s approach to free agency over the next few years. When discussing what advantages they have, Klentak talked about how fortunate a position the team is in at this time:

"“There’s a really strong foundation of players in this organization, some of them are in the big leagues, some are coming, and I think that, coupled with the first pick in the draft, the largest international bonus pool this year, the first priority in the waiver period, the first pick in the Rule 5 draft, etc. creates some inherent advantages…“"

It’s clear already that Klentak is fully committed to the rebuild mode, and he knows what this year means to that process. As the process unfolded towards his hiring, many industry sources stated that the Phillies might have had the most desirable of all the open general manager positions this offseason. This was largely due to the reasons mentioned in the Klentak statement.

The ability to pick first among the pools of talent at three different points: the MLB Amateur Draft, the waiver period, and the Rule 5 Draft, is a very good way to add high-end talent to the organization.

One thing that intrigues me the most is that Klentak places an emphasis on the international market as a way to use this advantage to acquire talent to populate the organization. While he is mostly talking about the ability to sign a top ranked prospect from Latin America to the minor league organization, perhaps he is also considering looking overseas, in places such as the Korean Baseball Organization.

Jung Ho Kang was a revelation for the Pittsburgh Pirates this past season. Signed to a mear four-year, $11 million contract after the team posted the highest negotiating bid (a shade over $5 million) for his services, Kang’s slash line of .287/.355/.461 with a .356 wOBA was exactly what the Bucs needed once Josh Harrison suffered both injuries and a regression in production that some saw coming.

While it might have been easy to suggest Kang’s success after he hit .356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs in the KBO a year earlier, many didn’t think his production would translate in MLB. His horrible spring had local writers wondering if Kang even deserved a spot on the Opening Day roster. He was able to turn it around, and helped carry the team to the playoffs before suffering a season-ending injury.

Kang’s success has opened the eyes of MLB organizations regarding the talent level over in Korea. Those scouts and other evaluators are wondering whether the Korean peninsula could be a newer, cheaper source of big league ready talent.

Kang’s production for such a low price tag might mean that the bidding for the next Korean star could get more competitive, especially as the available talent from the KBO improves.

More from That Balls Outta Here

The next power-hitting player has now been posted by the Nexen Heroes in the form of first baseman Byung-ho Park. Teams with available money will be at a competitive advantage, should they choose to pursue Park and others like him. While players from Korea aren’t subject to the international bonus pool limits, it still doesn’t hurt to have deep pockets, considering teams need to post a bid large enough to win exclusive negotiating rights.

Looking more closely at Park, you can see how teams might be enamored. A quick search of his career numbers shows that the 29-year old Park is a power hitter in every sense of the word. Since becoming a regular in the league, Park has hit 173 home runs over four seasons.

While that home run total seems eye-popping, keep in mind that MLB cast-off  Eric Thames hit 47 home runs last season in the KBO, so obviously this is an offensive league. Nevertheless, Kang’s power translated well enough to the Major Leagues. Not to the extent that he was producing in Korea, yet still very useful in the power-starved offensive environment in which baseball currently finds itself.

Park would fill a couple of current needs for the Phillies. He is a first baseman, and while Ryan Howard will probably get the bulk of 2016 at-bats, his contract mercifully ends after next season. The club would then have Park on hand already as the heir apparent.

Also, since Park bats right-handed, he could serve as half of a platoon in the 2016 season. He would appear to be a better option than Darin Ruf, and could even take over as the starter should he find the level of success even close to that experienced by Kang.

Park is not young at 29 years of age, but he’s also not old enough that a three or four-year deal would potentially saddle the team with a below average first baseman for years to come. In fact, at the current rate, he’d also come rather cheap, since Kang’s contract has somewhat set the market for players coming from Korea. That market could skyrocket when (if?) more players come over and are successful. But until that happens, the market should remain rather depressed.

I’m not suggesting that Klentak make signing Park his first order of business. But if the new GM is serious about making sure the team is on the cutting edge of player acquisiton, casting a greedy eye toward the next emerging pool of talent would be a great way to start. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see more of this?

Next: 2015 Phillies Bullpen Report Card