There’s an interesting report out of South Korea about former Oriole outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, who arrived back in his home country this week.
According to the Yonhap News Agency, Kim told reporters that he definitely wants to play again in the majors in 2018, but isn’t sure it will happen.
“It’s not something I can control,” Kim was quoted as saying in the article. “Obviously, I’d love to stay in the majors. But I felt my determination alone can’t do the trick. I’ll just try to do the best I can.”
I’m somewhat surprised that Kim absolutely wants to return to MLB, because, frankly, it may be hard for him to land a big league deal given his statistics this year: .231 average, .307 on-base percentage, .292 slugging percentage, one homer, 10 extra base hits in 239 plate appearances between the Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Instead, he could return to Korea and pick up where he left off as the KBO’s Tony Gwynn. But my sense is, while talking to him this past season, that he’s done what he could do in Korea, and still has something to prove to himself in the United States.
The guy can hit, and I’d imagine some MLB team will be willing to take a look this spring, but that might be on a minor-league deal, with the potential to earn a million or two if he made the majors. So, would he be open to a split-deal, knowing that he might have to start 2018 in the minors?
He told reporters in Korea he’d first have to check the rosters of any interested team to see whether playing time would be a concern.
“If I end up on a team full of prospects, I won’t get an opportunity to play,” Kim said. “I realized that this year.”
Remember, Kim was adamant back in 2016 that he would not start in the minors when he struggled in the spring with the Orioles. To his credit, he worked tirelessly and became the Orioles’ best on-base guy in 2016, with a .382 on-base percentage and a .302 average.
This past season, though, was a disaster for Kim. It started relatively slow, he was relegated to a platoon and then he completely lost his starting left field job to red-hot rookie Trey Mancini, a converted first baseman. It didn’t help that manager Buck Showalter wasn’t enamored with Kim’s defense, so he was limited to an occasional start versus a right-hander or pinch-hit duties.
“It was frustrating when I’d get three hits one day and sit on the bench the next day,” said Kim, according to the article. “But it’s all on me. I just didn’t have it.”
By all accounts, Kim was a great teammate. He never stopped working, never stopped trying and never complained despite the lack of playing time. In late July, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in the Jeremy Hellickson deal.
Kim wasn’t a fit for the Phillies. His inclusion was more to balance out the salary owed to Hellickson. The Phillies were committed to giving younger outfielders playing time, so Kim rode the bench a lot in Philadelphia, too.
He hit .232 in 56 games and 142 plate appearances for the Orioles and .230 in 40 games and 97 plate appearances for the Phillies.
If he is to play in the majors again, he’ll be viewed as a part-timer (he’s 2-for-33 in his MLB career versus lefties).
The easy choice would be for Kim, who turns 30 in January, to stay in Korea, where he had a great career for the Doosan Bears. But he’s had the MLB bug for years. And he proved, when he got consistent playing time, that he could be a contributing major leaguer.
I’m sure it would be difficult to walk away from that now, knowing that a break here or there and he could be a contributor again.
But he might have to endure time in the minors to re-establish himself. I’ll be curious to see how it plays out.
No ‘Big Irish’ Homecoming
When I first saw the email that the Orioles had signed first baseman/outfielder Joe Maloney, I thought for a moment that the “Big Irish” was returning home.
But that was first baseman/outfielder Joe Mahoney, the Orioles’ sixth-rounder in 2007 who made his big league debut in 2012 and was claimed that offseason by the Miami Marlins. According to baseball-reference.com, Mahoney, who is now 30, hasn’t played pro ball since 2013.
The guy the Orioles signed to a minor league deal is a 27-year-old who was drafted in the 10th round by the Texas Rangers out of Limestone (S.C.) college in 2010. Maloney is a right-handed hitter who plays first, corner outfield and has caught.
He last was in affiliated baseball in 2016, when he hit a combined .256 with five homers at High-A and Double-A in the Minnesota Twins organization.
He spent 2017 playing in the independent leagues, two games with Somerset of the Atlantic League and 99 games with Rockland of the Canadian-American Association. He was named Player of the Year after hitting 35 homers and driving in 101 runs to lead the Can-Am League. He’ll likely start the 2018 season for Double-A Bowie.
My take on this, besides that Maloney is not Mahoney: The Orioles don’t seem to be in desperate need of a right-handed hitting power first baseman/corner outfielder who strikes out a decent amount (667 times in 578 pro games).
But before you can ask if the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder can pitch, I’ll say this: Executive vice president Dan Duquette is always looking for diamonds in the rough, no matter the position. I’m sure he’ll land the pitching version (or versions) of Maloney before this offseason is done, too.
Honestly, I’ve stopped mocking the process, because occasionally Duquette hits on someone that’s on no one else’s radar. Obviously, the Orioles need reliable, established, big league commodities to be added to the roster before April. If they don’t do that, it will be another long season.
The offseason is long, anyway. A signing like this just helps pass the time. I suppose.
About CC Sabathia — again
Several of you – OK, it was mainly on Facebook by people who don’t actually read the stories – hammered me for writing last week that the Orioles needed to seriously pursue New York Yankees’ 37-year-old lefty CC Sabathia if he, indeed, if he’s a free agent this offseason.
Sabathia proved my point by allowing two runs while striking out 14 batters in 10 1/3 innings in his next two games – both Yankees’ victories.
The way Sabathia has pitched in this postseason not only allows me to pat myself on the back. It probably guarantees that Sabathia will stay put in New York.
That’s what I expected anyway before I wrote my piece.
Now, it’s even harder to imagine Sabathia, whose family has settled in New Jersey, with anyone but the Yankees in 2018. He obviously would like to stay, and I don’t see how the Yankees can justify not having his presence around as they try to become a perennial playoff team again. Not only has he been good in October, but he was 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 27 starts in 2017, and was particularly strong down the stretch.
I still think he could have been a nice fit for the Orioles — even though he is old, injury-riddled and has had past personal issues, he can still be effective on the mound and be a strong mentor in the clubhouse while not commanding a long-term commitment. And, remember, the Orioles need more than one starter – maybe as many as three – and Sabathia checks a lot of the boxes the Orioles desire for one of those slots.
But I don’t think that matters now, no matter what Sabathia does throughout the rest of this postseason.
He’s already proved his value to the Yankees once again.