The Orioles officially ended their preseason still at an impasse with outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, who is fighting the club’s attempt to send him to the minors to start the season. And as the hours count down to Opening Day, it appears more likely that the Orioles will be forced to carry the South Korean outfielder on their 25-man roster.
Kim, speaking for the first time since being told the Orioles wanted to send him to the minors, said that he stands by a statement sent out by his agency Thursday saying that he would refuse a minor league assignment. When the Orioles signed Kim – who had been one of the top players in Korean Baseball Organization for the past decade – to a two-year, $7 million deal, there was a clause included that prevented the club from sending Kim to the minors without his consent.
“Every decision was made through discussion with the agents,” Kim said through his interpreter, Danny Lee, after the Orioles' 8-7 exhibition win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. “So whatever she says is the same as my thoughts.”
The Orioles have now had several conversations with Kim about going to the minors, but the team remains at an crossroads with the outfielder. And with less than 48 hours before Opening Day rosters must be set, there’s no sign of a resolution. It’s getting more likely that the Orioles will be forced to carry Kim on their major league roster to open the season.
Another sign of that occurred following Friday’s game when the team made eight roster cuts, including reassigning infielder Paul Janish to minor league camp, to trim their spring roster to 29 players. Because Kevin Gausman, Brian Matusz and Jimmy Paredes are expected to open the season on the disabled list, it appears the team’s last two Opening Day roster spots would come down to Kim, outfielder Nolan Reimold and nonroster outfielder Xavier Avery.
Manager Buck Showalter inserted Kim into Friday’s game against the Phillies as a pinch hitter in the top of the ninth inning, marking the first time Kim has played since last Saturday. Kim came to the plate with two on and one out and beat out a double-play ball on a grounder to second base.
"It's been quite a while,” Kim said. “The feeling was very nice. … It was very special to get an at-bat today. I wasn't really expecting it. I was able to be there and be part of today's game. I actually felt good about the end of the game."
Showalter said he considered starting Kim in the team’s exhibition finale and wanted to get him at least one at-bat. He pinch hit for designated hitter Pedro Alvarez.
“There were some other variables there,” Showalter said. “… He’s working hard. Regardless of what’s going on with his situation, I do have a heart. So you listen to things and you still do what your heart tells you sometimes.”
Speaking after the game, Kim granted an interview but seemed uncomfortable throughout, especially when asked about how the past week has been for him.
"All I tried to do was get ready so I could play at any time, and whenever the skipper asked me to go out and play," Kim said. "Without knowing when to play, I was actually able to see the game, see how others play and was actually able to learn from that. I enjoyed watching [and] learning.
“Everyone around here [is] treating me the same way. I still feel I am part of the team. And everybody is still very nice to me. And whatever happens to me, I am trying to get ready for every situation that I can be in the game and in any kind of situation. So I can prepare for it.”
Kim opened the spring hitless in his first 23 at-bats and hit just .178 during the exhibition season. He was 8-for-22 in his final 10 games, but failed to record an extra-base hit and walked just once. Before his at-bat Friday, he didn’t play at all in the final week of the exhibition season. Including at-bats he received in minor league games, Kim was third on the team in plate appearances.
Asked if he received a fair chance to make the team, Kim said he wasn’t “going to talk about which one is right or which one is wrong.”
“I’m not going to make any comments [on that],” Kim said. “All I want to do is be a good baseball player who gets ready every time whenever for whoever needs me so I can be there to play.”
Asked whether he’s thought he could learn from opening the season in the minors, Kim said, “That one I haven’t actually thought about it.”
Showalter said Kim getting into Friday’s game doesn’t change his status.
“No, it’s the same situation,” Showalter said. “What would change about it? Not that I know of. He didn’t tell me. I wasn’t told. I really didn’t ask a whole lot. We talked a little about it some today. It was an option for me.”