The Korean free agent market is heating up, and while power-hitting first baseman Byung-ho Park is off the market, there are still talented Korean players available to be signed in free agency.
According to Yahoo! Sports's Jeff Passan, Korean left fielder Hyun-soo Kim wants to sign with a MLB team. He's 27-years young, which is a prime time to be entering the market, and is registered as an international free agent.
This means Kim can sign with any team and avoid going through the posting process, where rights to negotiate go to the highest bidder in a silent auction (like what the Twins had to do to land Park), and makes him an ideal candidate for the Rays.
Kim has a .318 career batting average in the Korean Baseball Organization, and is coming off a season where he had a hitting split of .326/.438/.541 with the KBO's Doosan Bears. Here are his numbers over his career:
A scout Passan interviewed said Park is an everyday outfielder and is "great at putting the bat on the ball. He's got a Royals-type offensive profile." Given how the Royals just won the World Series, their style of play is at a premium and might have several teams enticed, but it's a positive report nonetheless.
On the other hand, Kim may have a tough time finding a contract when he has to compete with Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, and Yoenis Cespedes, who all could conceivably land $100 million deals. The market is flooded with outfield talent this year. Accordingly, Passan notes "Kim could find himself toward the top of the next tier of corner outfielders."
If you don't believe Korean players can succeed in the MLB, Kwon Dong-hwi of the Korea Joongang Daily says just look at Jung-ho Kang, Shin-soo Choo, and Hyun-jin Ryu, who have all succeeded in their time playing in the MLB.
Kang had a 3.9 WAR season and was a NL Rookie of the Year candidate before breaking his leg when he fell victim to a takeout slide. Choo has been in the MLB since 2005 and continues to be a consistent player, putting up a 127 wRC+ in 2015 even at age 33. In 2013 and 2014, Ryu put up 3.6 and 3.8 WAR, respectively, and was poised to be a key part of the Dodgers' stellar 2015 rotation before eventually getting season-ending shoulder surgery after a long string of shoulder and back issues.
In all three players, there is one common factor: MLB success. Kim could easily be a part of the influx of talented Korean players into the MLB.
For the Rays, a Kim signing would mean some maneuvering in the outfield, although the team is presumably already considering sending away Desmond Jennings and/or Brandon Guyer, opening up his natural position of left field.
Jared Ward has already broken down trading Jennings to the Giants as well as what Guyer's value would be. Moving both of those players and upgrading to Kim in a corner outfield spot would make sense, especially with less than $30 million committed to players before arbitration. It may just come down to the cost.
If Kim can slip through the free agent cracks, the Rays might be just the place for him to find a starting position.