Should Rockies bid for Nexen's Byung-ho Park?

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There hasn't been a lot of KBO-league players that have successfully transitioned over to the MLB. That trend is somewhat changing as the past few years the MLB has seen production from players like the Pirates' SS Jung-ho Kang and the Dodgers' SP Hyun-Jin Ryu. Kang alone is a rare commodity in the MLB - a successful Korean hitter. Just as the MLB has seen recent success from Cuban players, the MLB is starting to see the same trend from Korean players. Knowing how quickly the price for Cuban players rose, one can only think that the price for Korean players is going to rise quickly as well.

This brings us to the next crop of potential KBO players that will try to successfully transition over to a MLB team in 2016. The Lotte Giants have kicked the tires on posting both (only allowed to post one player per year, but Lotte could simply just accept one of the bids) 3B Jae-Gyun Hwang and OF Ah-Seop Son. The Nexen Heroes have already taken action and announced that 1B Byung-ho Park (Check this bomb) will be posted on Monday, November 2.

Unlike the Japanese NPB-MLB posting system that was put into place a few years ago, the KBO and MLB still have the more traditional posting system. Under this system, MLB teams submit a blind bid for a player. If the KBO team agrees to the highest bidder's posting, that highest-bidding MLB team gets an exclusive 30-day negotiating window to work out a contract. If a contract can't be negotiated before the end of those 30 days, that player is then returned to its KBO team and the posting bid is returned to the MLB team.

So, should the Colorado Rockies consider bidding for Park before next Friday's deadline? Well, first let's look to see if there's even a fit. According to Fangraphs, Rockies' 1B ranked just ahead of the last place Rays in wRC+ with 86. The Rockies fared a little better in WAR, sitting at 25th with -0.2. For a position many expect a lot of HRs, the Rockies only put up 20 last year which ranked 26th. We must understand that a lot of statistics are park-adjusted, but even so the Rockies were bad last year at first base. Is there help on the way? Not exactly.

While Ben Paulsen has at times looked like a late-blossoming stud with a sweet beard, he's also looked like a replacement player with a clean-shaven face many times. Correlation? I don't know. That's a different article. Morneau should only return on a cheaper incentive-laden deal, and I think he can do better on the open market. And then there's Rosario. I think he's destined for greener grass - AKA the AL (I do think he'll re-establish himself, just not with the Rockies). Looking far off, Ryan McMahon could change positions if Arenado stays put. Whether that's to the outfield or 1B is yet to be seen. Jordan Patterson has seen time this season and in this year's AFL at 1B, so he could be a more immediate solution.

Yes, the Rockies could use more production from their 1Bs. But does that necessitate a bidding for Park? Many would say that everything has to go right next year in order for the Rockies to see contention. So maybe it doesn't make a lot of sense to bid for a 29-year old first baseman? While he's put up gaudy numbers in the KBO, just as his teammate Kang did in past years, he seems to be headed towards the wrong side of 30 by the time many expect the Rockies to start competing. Knowing this shouldn't stop the Rockies from doing their homework. Let's take a look at Kang's statistics before and after his transition over to the MLB.

Throwing out Kang's first two years of KBO ball because of small sample sizes, we have seven years worth of statistics that average out to this:

  • .300 AVG / .380 OBP / .507 SLG
  • .890 OPS, 20 HRs
  • 1.52 K/BB Ratio

In his first year of MLB, Kang was able to put up these statistics on 36 less at-bats:

  • .287 AVG / .355 OBP / .461 SLG
  • .816 OPS, 15 HRs
  • 3.54 K/BB Ratio

There was decline in his numbers, and that was expected. His slugging percentage had the biggest decline in his slash line - 9%, his OPS declined by 8%, his HRs by 25%, and his K/BB Ratio more than doubled. Still very impressive for his first year in the MLB, likely not facing most of the pitchers he hit against.

To try and project what Park might do, let's try and extrapolate Kang's MLB differences to his KBO averages. Throwing out Park's first five years of KBO ball (which were uninspiring - not to mention a strange two year lapse between his age 19 and 22 seasons), we have four years worth of statistics that average out to these statistics:

  • .314 AVG / .425 OBP / .641 SLG
  • 1.066 OPS, 43 HRs
  • 1.50 K/BB Ratio

Extrapolating Kang's numbers to Park's, he projects to these statistics:

  • .300 AVG / .393 OBP / .583 SLG
  • .977 OPS, 33 HRs
  • 3.50 K/BB Ratio

That's super impressive. Do I think it will happen? Probably not. But does it warrant a look at bidding for him, absolutely. You can easily see how Park has more margin of error with Kang's successful transition, but that's just it. Kang was the one who made that successful transition. Park is a different player, playing a different position, requiring likely a higher investment.

To try and project what Park might make, let's try and extrapolate the rise in Cuban contracts with what Kang signed for. Kang was signed to the Pirates for a four year, $11MM contract with a team option of $5.5MM in 2019. That's extremely team-friendly considering the year he just put up. Kang also cost the Pirates $5MM for his posting fee, so really they got him at 4 years, $16MM or five years, $21.5MM if you kick in the team option. That's still a very team-friendly deal of $4-4.3MM/AAV.

Now, for Cubans I want to look at the rise of price for contracts for similar power-hitting position players:

  • 2012: Jorge Soler signs for 9 years, $20MM ($2.22MM/AAV) as a 20 year old
  • 2012: Yasiel Puig signs for 7 years, $42MM ($6MM/AAV) as a 21 year old
  • 2012: Yoenis Cespedes signs for 4 years, $36MM ($9MM/AAV) as a 26 year old
  • 2014: Jose Abreu signs for 6 years, $68MM ($11.33MM/AAV) as a 27 year old
  • 2015: Yasmany Tomas signs for 6 years, $68.5MM ($11.42MM/AAV) as a 24 year old
As you can see, the trend has been more and more money being spent on Cuban defectors. Now, some of this is complicated with the MLB's international spending limits, which is supposed to make it harder and harder for teams to sign guys like Soler and Puig to big contracts without having a consequence. The comparison I like most is the difference between Cespedes and Abreu. They were both very well regarded Cuban prospects, hit for power, and were about the same age when they signed. Abreu's AAV sees an increase of 26% in comparison to Cespedes' contract which was signed two years before.

I don't think it's too outlandish to think that contracts of this nature increase 10-15% each year. So, let's use that same concept to see what Park could potentially be looking at for his contract. So, let's say Park's contract comes in somewhere between $4.5MM-$5.15MM/AAV. Park is a year older than Kang, and likely would either want a short-term deal, or one last large contract. So, I could see a contract like 3 years, $16MM for a shorter-term contract. Or, I could see him looking for something more along the line of 6 years, $30MM. As for what the winning bid will be, that's hard to gauge. I expect it to be somewhere between $5-10MM. Adding that posting fee to his contract, I can see Park costing a team anywhere from $6.5-8.5MM/AAV.

In conclusion, if the Rockies are even thinking about a reunion with Justin Morneau, I think they'd be better served looking at Park. While getting a player who could potentially hit for .300 average, with an OPS in the 900s, with 25+ HRs for $6.5-8.5MM/AAV seems like a heck of a steal, I don't know that it's the Rockies place to make that risk. The Rockies could always trade Park in a few years if they needed, so that is an option. I see Park landing somewhere in-between Kang and Abreu - 5 years, $26-34MM. The Rockies might be better served waiting for a few years before making these kinds of free agent deals.

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