With focus on filling an outfield hole, adding a left-handed bat and bolstering their woeful on-base percentage from this past season, the Orioles have agreed to a two-year, $7 million deal with South Korean left fielder Hyun-soo Kim, according to an industry source.
Kim, who turns 28 in January, flew from South Korea to Baltimore Wednesday and likely will have a physical here this week. The deal is pending a medical review, a source said.
His name is pronounced Hun-sue — so yes, Baltimore, there might soon be a “Hon” on the Orioles.
Considered one of the best hitters and most durable players in the Korea Baseball Organization, Kim batted .326 with a .438 on-base percentage, 28 home runs and 128 RBIs last year while playing in 141 of the Doosan Bears’ 144 games. He has been called Korea’s Iron Man for appearing in most games in each of his nine-plus seasons with the Bears.
Because of the length of his career in Korea, Kim achieved international free agency and was not subject to the posting process, in which teams bid for the right to negotiate a contract with a player. He could have signed with any team in Korea or Japan, but after rejecting an offer from the Bears this year he expressed interest in testing his abilities in Major League Baseball.
Listed as 6 feet 2, 220 pounds by the KBO, Kim is a career .318 hitter with a lifetime on-base percentage of .406. More impressive, Kim walked 101 times and had 63 strikeouts in 2015 and has had more walks (597) than strikeouts (501) over his career.
That’s a big plus for an Orioles team that had the third fewest walks (418) and third most strikeouts (1,331) in the American League this past season. The Orioles’ .307 on-base percentage was 24th in the major leagues.
There’s a question as to how Kim’s impressive statistics in Korea will translate to the major leagues, since the KBO is considered a hitter-friendly league (though Kim’s home ballpark is one of the most spacious in the KBO).
But Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang made a strong impression in his first year in the United States in 2015, hitting .287 with 15 home runs and finishing third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. Kang, 28, agreed last year to a four-year, $11 million deal after the Pirates posted a $5 million bid for his services.
This offseason, the Minnesota Twins signed 29-year-old Korean first baseman Byung-ho Park to a four-year, $12 million deal after winning his posting rights with a $12.85 million bid.
Kim had a higher career batting average and on-base percentage in Korea than either Park or Kang, though his slugging percentage was lower than both. His 28 homers last year were a career high, and at least one talent evaluator predicted Kim will be more of a 15-homer hitter in the majors.
He’s played mostly left field and some first base for Doosan, though he likely will exclusively play outfield for the Orioles. His slightly below-average arm might limit him to left field, where a talent evaluator said Kim would likely be adequate in the big leagues. Although he’s not viewed as a prototypical leadoff hitter, Kim could get a look there if the Orioles don’t fill that void in another way.
The Orioles have no set starting outfielder besides center fielder Adam Jones, so Kim could immediately earn a starting role in a lineup that is right-handed heavy, especially with slugger Chris Davis unsigned. Davis turned down a seven-year, $150 million contract offer made by the Orioles last week.
One club official said the pending signing of Kim had no bearing on the Orioles’ pursuit of Davis or any other player.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Tuesday that the club continues to look for left-handed hitters, starting pitchers and players to increase roster depth.
Filling one of those holes with a Korean player is not a surprise under the Duquette regime. The Orioles’ top decision-maker has tapped into the Asian market — and Korea in particular — during much of his lengthy career.