The St. Louis Cardinals cut Kolten Wong loose this winter, leaving the infield worse overall. For reinforcements, the team needs to be in on Ha-Seong Kim.
As sad as it is, the St. Louis Cardinals will be lowering payroll this winter and the first casualty of that pursuit was Kolten Wong. In his absence, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak let loose that the plan for the infield was to play Tommy Edman in Wong’s place.
While it makes sense to move Edman over to second, there are very real concerns about playing Matt Carpenter every day at third after his last two years of inconsistent performance. There is also the risk that Carpenter hits the 550 at-bats needed to vest his 2022 option.
With the infield looking like it will be Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Edman, and Paul Goldschmidt, an upgrade is certainly possible. In the past three years, we have seen the Cardinals dip into the Korean market to find cheap talent that can immediately contribute. The recent hot streak for the Cardinals in that market started with Seung-Hwan Oh, and includes Miles Mikolas and Kwang Hyun Kim in 2020.
For 2021, the Cardinals should be all over Korean star Ha-Seong Kim.
Ha-Seong Kim is the most recent KBO player expected to be posted for bidding from the MLB. Unlike the other Korean players the Cardinals have signed, Kim is just 25 and has been a middle infielder for the Kiwoom Heroes for the past two seasons. While 2020 was Kim’s age-24 season, he debuted in the KBO at just 18 years old and has played seven seasons already.
Excluding his short rookie year, Kim’s lowest OPS in those six seasons has been .832. Over his entire career, Kim averages a slash line of .294/.373/.494 and set a career-high with 30 homers while driving in 109 in 2020.
As Dan Szymborski writes, any team near contention should be in the market for Kim, and that fits the Cardinals. Included in that article is a very important answer to one of the biggest questions about any player that comes to the MLB from a foreign league. How will the talent translate?
The standard take is that the KBO is equivalent to somewhere between AA and AAA for the MLB. Because of that, there is some expectation of regression but for a 25-year-old, there is still room to grow.
For the St. Louis Cardinals, this could be a perfect fit at second or third base for the next five years.
While a 115-120 wRC+ doesn’t scream cleanup batter, that isn’t the hole that Kim would come in to fill. For the Cardinals, they need offensive upgrades at as many positions possible by as much of a margin is possible. At either second or third, Kim is a huge upgrade that would fit perfectly to bat second or fifth. The Cardinals need length in their lineup, and Kim would give them the potential for a consistently above-average bat with average defense at a huge discount.
Even though Kim is at a discount, he won’t be cheap. Just to sign Kim, any team would need to pay a 20% tax on the first $25M and descending percentages on more of the future salaries owed to the player as a posting fee to their KBO team.
Outside of just the posting fee tax, nailing down exactly what Kim may get is not super easy. Thankfully, smarter people than myself have done their best job to do just that. Eno Sarris of The Athletic congregated three different projections for each free agent’s salary, averaging them all to try and find the best projection.
For Kim, the average ended up being five years at $35M in total. If that is the case, I would assume that doesn’t take into account the posting fees because just $7M a year for a player with Kim’s MLB projections sounds too good to be true.
Of course, there is the worry that Kim ends up just being a utility man that keeps the price from approaching $100M, but there is plenty of reason to believe that Kim could provide well over $100M in value over a five-year contract.
The Cardinals are always a risk-averse team, which is why I think Kim would be a player right up their alley just like the other players they have signed from the KBO. Having a KBO star like Kwang Hyun Kim could make St. Louis more attractive to Ha-Seong as well.
I’ll leave you with some of the slugger’s highlights.
Those bat flips would be beautiful to see at Busch Stadium.
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The Cardinals easily have room to add a $7M per year contract to their payroll, but so does almost every other team. They won’t be without competition, but the Cards should be in the mix for Ha-Seong Kim.