The Hyun Soo Kim saga took another twist Thursday night when the Korean outfielder’s agency released a statement that said he wants to see his contract “honored and executed faithfully.”
In other words, he has a two-year $7 million deal with a provision that he can’t be sent to the minors without his permission. And he’s not giving his permission.
The Orioles have already told him they don’t think he is currently one of the best 25 players on the 40-man roster, and therefore they want him to start at Triple-A Norfolk.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette issued his own statement Thursday, basically saying the Orioles want Kim in the organization and think he can be a productive player, he just needs some regular at-bats in the minors to catch up to where the Orioles think he should be.
Here’s my official statement on all of this: What a mess.
And it’s not the first mess the Orioles have gotten into with a Korean player in the last few years. Pitcher Suk-min Yoon was sold back to his home country in 2015 after it was clear he wasn’t getting out of the minors. The Orioles also were banned for a time from scouting in Korea after they attempted to sign amateur lefty Seong-Min Kim to a pro deal.
This one could blow over, I suppose. Frankly, the best thing for Kim to do is accept the assignment to the minors and try to get the swing back that made him one of Korea’s most feared hitters. The Orioles can be accused of many things, but not promoting worthy players isn’t one of them. If Duquette and Showalter think Kim can help the ballclub, he’ll be called up soon enough.
But the Orioles gave Kim the clause in his contract allowing him to refuse a minor league assignment. Before we paint him as selfish, he is within his rights here. And he was basically the Tony Gwynn of Korea. To hit like that, anywhere, he certainly has to have both talent and confidence.
Yet Kim did not play like a major leaguer in his small sampling this spring, starting the exhibition season 0-for-23 and ending up 8-for-44 with no extra base hits.
One scout that watched him several times this spring was unimpressed with both Kim’s offense:
“He’s easily overmatched by fastballs and he looked to be afraid to get deep into counts,” the scout said. “He was just hacking and getting himself out early in counts.”
And, even more so, Kim’s defense:
“He gets slow jumps and reads, takes bad routes to balls. There’s not much arm strength and he doesn’t run well. He doesn’t look particularly athletic out there. Basically, if he doesn’t hit, and hit a lot, then you don’t have anything.”
The Orioles aren’t releasing Kim and eating the $7 million, however. No chance. So the options are pretty simple: Either they bite the bullet and put him on the 25-man roster or he acquiesces and goes to the minors. There’s also the possibility he could be sold back to a Korean team, but that doesn’t appear likely for a lot of reasons (seven million reasons, to start).
Someone is going to blink before rosters are set Sunday.
My guess is it’s Kim, because there is no satisfaction in sitting on the bench and not playing. Especially for someone who reportedly loves baseball so much. Especially for someone who stressed how badly he wanted to play in the majors. One bad month certainly won’t satisfy that yearning.
No matter how it shakes out, though, it certainly is a rocky start to another Orioles-Korea marriage.