First base may not be at the top of the priority list, but that hasn’t stopped the Boston Red Sox from showing interest in Korean slugger Byung-ho Park.
The Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber reports that the Red Sox have scouted Park, who was posted last week by the Nexen Heroes from the Korean Baseball Organization. There is a 5 PM deadline on Friday for major-league teams to submit a bid to win exclusive negotiating rights with the 29-year old first baseman.
It’s unclear if the Red Sox plan to place a bid on Park, who is expected cost more than the $5 million bid that the Pittsburgh Pirates won last year for Jung Ho Kang, who they then signed to a four-year, $11 million deal. Kang’s success in his debut season in the majors could conceivably lead to an explosion in prices for power-hitting Korean players, much like Yoenis Cespedes helped pave the way for fellow Cuban hitters Jose Abreu and Rusney Castillo to cash in.
"“Based on Kang’s performance, there has been a lot more optimism regarding Park’s potential,” said agent Alan Nero, who represents both Park and Kang. “As I said last year with Kang, if he were Cuban (and not subject to the posting process), he would have gotten $100 million. The same is true for Park. Power pays.”"
The Red Sox could use more power in their lineup, which explains why they may be kicking the tires on Park. The right-handed hitter smashed 52 and 53 home runs in his last two seasons in Korea, but it’s unclear how much his power will translate here in the US. For comparisons sake, Kang was a 40-homer hitter in Korea, but hit only 15 in 126 games with the Pirates this year. Park clearly has some pop in his bat, but we shouldn’t expect him to suddenly challenge for the league lead in home runs out of the gate.
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Complicating matters is that the Red Sox are already planning to shift Hanley Ramirez to first base in 2016. Unless they manage to move Ramirez and the $66 million still owed to him over the next three years, there doesn’t appear to be a spot available for Park. Even if Ramirez was cleared out of the way, Boston still has Travis Shaw waiting in the wings. Shaw blasted 13 home runs with an .822 OPS over 65 games as a rookie this year, so the Red Sox would need to be confident that Park projects to be significantly better than what Shaw has already proven to be capable of in this league.
If the Red Sox managed to dump Ramirez’s contract then they would be better off chasing free agent slugger Chris Davis, who led the league in homers with 47 this year. The Baltimore Orioles are rumored to have interest in Park if they aren’t able to retain Davis, so if the O’s were to win the posting bid then it may increase Boston’s odds of recruiting Davis. Finding a new home for Ramirez would seem to be a prerequisite for chasing either Davis or Park, so if they manage to free themselves of at least a significant portion of Ramirez’s salary along the way then they might as well use those savings toward signing the guy that has already proven to be a big-time power threat in this league.
It sounds like the Red Sox may just be doing their due diligence in checking out Park. However, big changes are expected under this new front office regime, so at this point we can’t rule anything out. With Nexen expected to review the bids on Park over the weekend, we should know by early next week if the Red Sox are seriously interested or not.