It’s not often that the best available free agent at a position is a player that most casual American fans have never seen play, but that appears to be the case this winter. Ha-seong Kim of the Kiwoom Heroes will likely be posted after Thanksgiving, and he could be the biggest talent to come from the KBO since Hyun-jin Ryu.
Just 25 years old, Kim has already satisfied the requirements to be posted. In the KBO, players must have played in the league for seven years, and because Kim debuted at 18, he has reached eligibility earlier than most. In those seven seasons, all Kim has done is hit. He boasts a career .294/.373/.493 slash line which is good for a 121 wRC+.
In 2020, Kim slashed .306/.397/.523 while hitting 30 homers and stealing 23 bags in 138 games. Kim also walked more than he struck out, compiling 75 free passes to 68 K’s. Don’t expect him to replicate that feat against major league pitching, but that combination of contact and discipline is certainly attractive.
Kim has played most of his career at shortstop though he made 41 starts at third this season. His previous high was two in 2019. Obviously, his value is much higher if he can play short in the majors. It’s easier to take the risk that his bat doesn’t fully transfer if he can play a defensive premium position, but given that his floor is perhaps a utility infielder with average offensive production, he’s worth the gamble regardless.
Because of his age, it might not even be that much of a risk. Most players that come from South Korea or Japan through the posting system are on the other side of their peak years. Shogo Akiyama, for example, had a disappointing MLB debut, but he’s also seven years older than Kim and at an age where his bat should be slowing down.
For Kim, the best may be yet to come. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have him putting up 3-4 fWAR a season for the next five years. In May, Kyle Glaser of Baseball America equated him to a top-100 prospect. It’s rare that a player of this caliber and at this stage in their career is so readily available.
With someone with this much upside and who will be relatively inexpensive, it’s easier to eliminate the teams that don’t have a great need for him than to point out the ones that do. The Astros still have Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman on the left side of the infield, so they likely won’t be going after him to strictly play second or to be a backup. The Padres likewise have the left side shored up with Manny Machado and Fernando Tatís Jr.
With just about every other team, there’s a clear way to fit him on the roster. MLB Trade Rumors predicted that the Rangers will sign him because he’s young enough for teams out of contention to have use for him. He’s also talented enough that any contender with an opening at short could turn to him. Teams that fall into that category include the A’s, Phillies, and Angels. No matter who signs him, getting to watch him play in the majors is going to be exciting.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.