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Kang’s success with Pirates means higher fees for next KBO stars | TribLIVE.com
Pirates/MLB

Kang’s success with Pirates means higher fees for next KBO stars

Travis Sawchik
| Tuesday, October 27, 2015 9:18 p.m
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang fields a ball hit by the Brewers' Martin Maldonado during the second inning Friday, Sept. 11, 2015, at PNC Park.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Reds closer Aroldis Chapman pitches during the ninth inning against the Pirates Tuesday, June, 17, 2014, at PNC Park.

Jung Ho Kang did not require an interpreter when asked about Byung-ho Park in early September.

“Big power,” Kang said to a reporter, emphasizing the point by separating his hands in opposite directions.

Kang and Park are friends. They were teammates with the Nexen Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). Park is expected to follow Kang to the major leagues next season. KBO players can be posted by their clubs beginning Nov. 1 for blind bids from major league teams. And after Kang’s performance last season, signing Park likely will require a considerably more lucrative posting fee and contract.

Last December, the Pirates won the rights to negotiate with Kang with a modest winning bid of $5 million. The Pirates then had 30 days to negotiate with Kang, signing him to a four-year, $11 million-deal. Kang was surrounded by unknowns as the first KBO hitter to jump directly to the majors.

After Kang’s success, teams likely will be less fearful regarding Park, a 29-year-old, right-hand hitting first baseman, who this year became the first KBO player to homer 50 times in back-to-back seasons. (KBO ballparks generally are smaller than major league parks, and pitching is equivalent to Double-A competition).

The Pirates scouted Park this season and could have a need at first base if Pedro Alvarez is jettisoned, but their success with Kang only increases costs in any serious pursuit of Park or another KBO star.

“You might see a team go to $20 million,” said Jim Duquette, former Mets GM and XM radio analyst, of Park’s posting fee.

After a success story in a new market, prices go up. The vast majority of big-dollar international free agents have signed with large-market clubs.

Consider after Yoenis Cespedes defected from Cuba and signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the Oakland Athletics in 2012, Jose Abreu followed and signed a six-year, $68 million deal with the Chicago White Sox before the 2014 season.

The Seattle Mariners’ winning bid to negotiate with Ichiro Suzuki was $13.1 million in 2000. The Boston Red Sox paid a $51.1 million fee to negotiate with the next elite Japanese player to be posted, Daisuke Matsuzaka, in 2006.

Posting fee restrictions have since been put in place with Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league — the max bid is $20 million — but there are no such limits with the KBO. However, the only KBO players to be posted and sign major league deals are Kang and left- pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu, whom the Los Angeles Dodgers paid $25.7 million to negotiate with.

Is Park worthy of such dollars?

Daniel Kim, a former major league scout, is an analyst covering KBO baseball. Kim told the Tribune-Review that Park “is the best pure hitter in the history of KBO.”

“Park is a good mistake hitter,” Kim said. “He is also a good low-ball hitter. … Remember Kang’s first-pitch home run against Ian Kennedy at Petco Park (in May)? Just like Kang, he will sometimes sit on something and will ambush you.”

Kim has no doubt Park will be posted and is motivated to play in the majors. Kim said the Nexen Heroes’ hope is the posting fee will double that of Kang’s.

“Park will be posted sometime before the winter meetings (in early December),” Kim said. “Nexen Heroes’ financial situation is shaky so they are motivated to sell him ASAP. … He has been studying English for a while, so it is safe to say that he’s been eyeing MLB for a long time.”

Kim said around 20 teams have visited South Korea to scout Park, including big-market clubs such as the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees.

“I don’t think the Pirates can sneak in like the way they did with Kang,” Kim said. “(Park) will do well in the States, but I’d like to see him in less-pressured market like Pittsburgh or Oakland. … He is quiet and introverted.”

Park likely will be joined in the posting process by at least one other KBO star, outfielder Ah-Seop Son, of the Lotte Giants. Kim said Son is “a carbon copy” of Nori Aoki and he wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pirates bid on him as he will be more “cost friendly.”

Still, Kang’s success means finding bargains will be more difficult.

Said Baseball America analyst Ben Badler in September: “In talking to a lot of teams, they said ‘(Kang) wasn’t a guy we spent much time on.’ I think a lot of teams are saying ‘This is something we are going to need to change.’ ”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

Categories: Pirates
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