Before returning to his native South Korea, the newest Oriole — outfielder Hyun-soo Kim — took a quick tour of his new baseball home Wednesday. Kim received his first chance to set his eyes on Camden Yards as his lifelong dream of making it to the major leagues officially became reality.
The Orioles’ two-year, $7 million deal with Kim, who spent the past nine-plus years as one of the top players in the Korean Baseball Organization, was finally made official Wednesday, several days after he arrived in Baltimore late last week to take his physical, the final step before finalizing the deal. The Orioles lost left-hander Edgar Olmos on waivers to the Chicago Cubs, clearing space for Kim on the 40-man roster.
“He was very eager to come to MLB,” said Kim’s interpreter, Yeirang Esther Lee. “He was a big fan since he was very little, and now he [so happy] that he could cry over here.”
By adding Kim, the Orioles are looking to improve their on-base capabilities while filling one of their corner-outfield holes with a much-needed left-handed bat. The Orioles’ .307 team on-base percentage was tied for third worst in the American League in 2015.
Kim, who turns 28 next month, hit .326 with a .438 on-base percentage, 28 home runs and 121 RBIs last season while playing in 141 of the Doosan Bears’ 144 games. Known for his plate discipline, Kim also walked 101 times and struck out just 63 times last season, and has more walks than strikeouts over the course of his career.
Kim, a career .318 hitter with a .406 on-base percentage, ranked in the KBO’s top five in RBIs in four of his nine full seasons. He ranked in the top five in walks five times.
“He’s had over a .400 on-base percentage a couple of times in Korea and he’s led his league, and he’s also led the league in batting and won the Gold Glove a couple of times in Korea,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said.
“All those skills are going to be very helpful in this ballpark, but the best thing that I’ve seen him do is he hits the ball the other way. He waits on the ball and he hits down on the fastball and that should translate to a lot of home runs at this ballpark.”
Even thought Kim has some experience at first base, Duquette said he sees left field as Kim’s primary position with the Orioles.
“He runs fine, he throws fine and he has good instincts,” Duquette said. “Beyond that, he’s a very good teammate. He’s well regarded by the players on his team, and I think he’ll fit in good with our ballclub. He’s got a nice disposition, he’s ready to go to work every day and he’s very serious about his hitting.”
Now, the biggest question is how Kim’s robust KBO stats will translate to the major leagues. Kim, speaking through Lee, acknowledged he isn’t sure of the answer.
“He thinks that it’s going to be OK and also he will try his best to perform as well as he did in Korea,” the interpreter said.
Duquette said he believes Kim’s power numbers will translate.
“This past year he hit for significant power with 28 home runs and at his age, he’s just turning 28, he’ll be able to translate that home run production from Korea to the States,” Duquette said. “He’s got a short swing and he uses the whole ballpark. He hits the ball to left field, he hits the ball to left-center field and he also pulls the ball to right field which should play very well in our ballpark.”
Kim said, through his interpreter, that he believes fellow South Korean Jung Ho Kang’s success last year with the Pittsburgh Pirates — Kang overcame early obstacles to place third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting — allowed him the opportunity to come to the major leagues. He hopes his play can lead to more opportunities for South Korean players.
“He feels very proud that he can represent South Korea as a baseball player and as you all know Kang for the Pirates, he did really well last season,” his interpreter said. “So he sort of feels burdened as well that he can play as well as Kang. Because Kang did so well in MLB, that’s why he thinks that that’s one of the reasons he can come over to the major leagues. So he’ll do his best and try hard, so we can have more South Korean players in the major leagues next year.”
Kim paid his dues in Korea. Because Kim has nine-plus years of experience in the KBO, he was a free agent this offseason. So he wasn’t under any team’s control and thus not subject to a posting fee.
The Orioles also made a bid for South Korean first baseman Byung-ho Park, whose negotiating rights went to the Minnesota Twins for $12.85 million. The Twins then signed the 29-year-old Park to a four-year, $12 million deal.
There isn’t a large sample of Korean position players who have successfully made the transition to the major leagues, but Kang hit .287 with 15 home runs and finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. The Pirates paid a $5 million posting fee to negotiate with Kang, 28, and signed him to a four-year, $11 million deal last offseason.
Olmos claimed: Olmos, who was claimed on waivers by the Cubs on Wednesday, was claimed off waivers by the Orioles two weeks ago. The Orioles had interest in Olmos last month when they were negotiating their deal with the Seattle Mariners for Mark Trumbo, but instead chose to take another lefty reliever, C.J. Riefenhauser, as the second player in the deal.
Still, the Orioles were able to acquire Olmos off waivers from the Cubs, who themselves claimed him from Seattle on Oct. 4. And now, 19 days later, the Cubs got Olmos back, this time from the Orioles.
Olmos, 25, posted a 4.50 ERA in 14 big league innings last season. He recorded a 3.55 ERA in 33 relief innings for the Mariners’ Triple-A club.
Navarro claimed: Infielder Rey Navarro was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Angels, the Orioles announced Wednesday.
Navarro was designated for assignment last week so the club could create 40-man space for right-hander Darren O’Day, who signed a four-year, $31 million deal.
Navarro, 26, played in 10 games for the Orioles last season, hitting .276/.276/.448 with one homer and three RBIs.
Dennis suspended: Orioles minor league left-hander Will Dennis was suspended 50 games without pay for violating baseball’s minor league drug policy.
Dennis, a 22-year-old who is currently on the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League roster, tested positive for Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), a stimulant in violation of the program. His suspension will begin at the beginning of the 2016 season.
The Orioles’ 23rd-round pick last year, Dennis went 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA in 19 2/3 relief innings in the Gulf Coast League. He also pitched 4 2/3 innings at short-season Single-A Aberdeen, allowing three runs on five hits.