Analyzing the Minnesota Twins and Byung-ho Park

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The Minnesota Twins turned out to be the mystery team in the Byung-ho Park bidding sweepstakes.

They pay out $12.85 million just to negotiate with the prolific Korean slugger, who hit 105 home runs in the past two seasons for the Nexen Heroes. MLB Trade Rumors estimates he will earn close to $8M a year on a 5-year contract, pushing the possible 2016 commitment from the Twins to $20.85M if he signs.

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I listed him as an option in Friday’s free agent primer, but noted the logjam currently in the corner infield with Joe Mauer, Trevor Plouffe and Miguel Sano. That’s still an unaddressed issue. Sano could see outfield time, but it remains doubtful the Twins would turn to him there at a full-time role the way the Chicago Cubs may do with slugger Kyle Schwarber.

Signing Park, 29, all-but puts the writing on the wall that Plouffe will be traded this off season, though there’s a very outside option he’s kept and Minnesota is in the process of collecting potent bats, mimicking the Cubs’ efforts the past two seasons.

Financially, the crowded position situation makes the bid more of a question mark. With strong needs in the bullpen and behind the plate, as well as my opinion of a front-end rotation arm, the possibility of spending $20M+ on an unproven commodity, at a stacked position, is a little baffling, to say the least.

Darren Wolfson tweeted earlier this week that General Manager Terry Ryan was given carte blanche for spending this off season, but we don’t know exactly how much owner Jim Pohlad will allow for a payroll increase.

Winning the Park bid is a welcome change of spending habits by Pohlad and the payroll-conscious Twins. After battling for a Wild Card spot last year, Minnesota is beginning to be a threat in the American League again. Increasing the payroll signals the first major shift away from a rebuilding process, and helps push forward the Twins’ timeline of contention, which arrived a year earlier than expected in 2015.

This isn’t to say, though, that Park is a wasted opportunity. If the Twins can figure out playing time among the corner infielders, his power potential is a welcome addition to a lineup that produced a negative-run differential during its 83-win season in 2015.

Park hit 53 home runs in 2015 and 52 in 2014. Last year his triple slash line improved to .343/.436/.714  in 622 plate appearances. Not known for his defense, he fits the profile of a full-time DH.

A recent scouting trip of Park from Baseball America’s Ben Badler wasn’t stellar, as Park struggled against mid-level Cuban pitching. Strikeouts were Badler’s concern, and will be the downfall of the slugger, who struck out nearly 25 percent of the time in the Korean KBO league. Other scouts, according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, rate his power as an 80 on the standard 20-to-80 scale, but inside fastballs are a concern.

The addition of Park leaves holes behind the plate, in the bullpen and starting rotation. Recent free agent signings of Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco tie up an additional $20M+ for two mid-to-back-end starters, while today’s news seems to really bury any chance the Twins can chase Jordan Zimmermann, or a second-tier free agent starter in the form of Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake and others. Inexpensive upgrades at catcher and relief are still available, but if significant upgrades in these needed spots aren’t made, the criticism around the Park bid will increase.

Ryan has recent success in the international market with Sano and Max Kepler. Sano is a superstar in the making, while Kepler is morphing into an impact bat of the future.

Next: What Can Twins Expect from GM Meetings?

Minnesota fans will also remember Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who signed a 3-year/$9M deal in 2010, and hit just .215 in 71 games between 2011-12 before being released. It should be noted, however, that Ryan was only a senior adviser at the time of Nishioka’s signing. He stepped down as general manager after the 2007 season, and returned to the GM role in November 2011.

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