Should The Angels Pursue Korean Infielder Ha-seong Kim?

Infielder Kim Ha-Seong , Kiwoom Heroes (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)
Infielder Kim Ha-Seong , Kiwoom Heroes (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images) /

Kiwoom Heroes of the KBO are expected to post shortstop Ha-seong Kim, opening him up for MLB teams to sign. Will the Angels be in play for the young star?

Before you ask, no, Ha-seong Kim cannot pitch (as far as I know), so why would the always-desperate-for-starting-pitching Angels even consider signing an infielder? In this article, I make the case that in spite of the need for pitching, the Halos should enter the bidding war for the young star.

Getting to Know Ha-Seong Kim

Kim made his KBO debut in 2014 at the young age of 18, which was -10.8 years under the league average. He struggled in his limited opportunities, registering a slash line of .188/.298/.396 and 2 home runs in 48 at-bats. It should be noted that Kim wasn’t in the starting lineup, which meant the majority of his chances came from pinch hits and late defensive replacements. At the time, the starting shortstop for the Heroes was Jung-Ho Kang, who blasted 40 home runs, 117 RBI, and a slash line of .356/.459/.739 in 117 games. With Kang performing at an elite level, Kim never had consistent chances to prove himself.

That all changed the following year when Kang was posted and signed a 4 year/$11 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The starting job was claimed by Kim and he has not looked back since. In his first full season, Kim compiled a slash line of .290/.362/.489 with 19 home runs in 140 games.

Fast forward to 2020, Kim has had a stranglehold of the starting shortstop position, consistently putting up elite numbers, and has only gotten better. This season, he has registered 30 home runs, 107 rbi, 107 runs, 21 stolen bases, and a slash line of .312/.403/.537 in 133 games thus far.

From a scouting perspective, Kim is often compared to his teammate and predecessor Kang. Although Kang hits for more consistent power, Kim is considered to be a better contact hitter, better defensively, and just an overall better athlete. The Fangraphs scouting report also speaks very highly of Kim:

"Explosive, compact-bodied athlete with natural doubles power. Has been taking bigger hacks in KBO and hitting more homers without impacting his contact rates. More walks than K’s in 2020. 70 arm, 60 runner. Everyday talent."

Why is Kim a Good Fit for the Angels?

With the Angels expected to let shortstop Andrelton Simmons enter free agency, they currently have a hole to fill at one of the middle infield positions. Last month I evaluated internal options to fill the opening if Simmons were to leave. While there is an abundance of players that could play the position, none of which really stood out as a front runner. Each candidate had similar issues. While enjoying successes in the minor leagues, they have not been able to translate that into the major leagues. With Mike Trout turning 30 years old next season, and the Angels desperate to get back into the postseason, it would be unwise for them to rely on a possible breakout of one of their internal options. Bringing in a player like Kim would solidify the Halos offensive lineup as one of the best in the league.

While the argument could be made that Kim is just as unproven as the others, Fangraphs gives Kim a future value rating of 50, which for perspective would put him between 44th (Jasson Dominguez) and 115th (Isaac Paredes) on their prospect list. Obviously, with any prospect, there are risks at play, but with Kim being a highly regarded contact hitter and low K rate, his risk factor would be much lower than that of someone like Kang. I expect Kim to perform right away and it would definitely be the best option for the Angels.

JP Morosi of MLB News views the Angels as a possible suitor for Kim, citing the opening at shortstop. He also expects the Rangers, Giants, Indians, and Cubs to be in the mix for the young infielder. If the Angels sign Kim, I expect him to be slotted in the shortstop position, with David Fletcher remaining at second base. Although Fletcher was able to play elite defense at the shortstop position during Simmons’ injury absence, I believe Kim would man the position as he has not played second base since 2014, where he only started one game. While Kim is considered a good athlete and would become comfortable fairly quickly at second base, I believe it would just make more sense for him to stay at shortstop and Fletcher at second.

Signing Process

The KBO posting period has been delayed by nine days. In the past, the posting period was typically between November 1st and December 5th, but due to COVID delaying the season, the period will now be between November 10th and December 14th.

Kim is in a fairly unique position, players in the KBO cannot be posted until they’ve accrued seven years of service time. With Kim making his debut at the age of 18, he will be allowed to be posted at the age of 25, which is considerably younger than most posted players and MLB free agents.

The MLB and KBO agreed to a new posting system in 2018, where the posting fee paid to the posting team would be tied directly to the size of the contract signed by the posted players. In this case, if Kim signs for $25m or less, the release fee paid to the former KBO team would be 20% of the contract’s value. If he signs for more than $25m and less than $50m, the release fee would be 20% of the first $25m and 17.5% of any amount over $25m. If he signs for more than $50m, the release fee paid would be 20% of the first $25m, 17% of the next $25m, and 15% of any amount over $50m.

"Which Angels are doomed to not return in 2021?"

Speculating whether or not a team will pursue a player involves many factors and strategies. One of those includes looking at the team’s GM tendencies and transaction history to see if they would make a move like that. With the Angel’s GM position sitting vacant, it’s difficult to speculate what they would do. Would they make necessary conservative moves that would most likely slightly improve the team? Or will the new GM decide they need to make big moves and take big risks? The chances that I am hired as GM are virtually zero (you never know), but if I were GM, I would understand that the time to go for it is now, and a bold move like signing Kim would be a step in the right direction.