How do you define expectations? More specifically: how do you define expectations for a Major League ballplayer making millions of dollars when he's signed a contract to play in another country for the first time?
Maybe it's quite simple, and it's just about determining whether he's been good or average or disappointing versus where that player was projected to perform. Perhaps expectations are based off of the oracles, based off of what Bill James or ZiPS or PECOTA predict. Even if we could agree that it's one of those two categories, it's all still pretty subjective. What I think would constitute a good year for Byung-ho Park won't jive with what everyone else thinks.
But let's not put the cart before the horse. After all, Park playing for the Twins in 2016 isn't set in stone quite yet. So instead of putting in a lot of time determining fair expectations for Park, or instead of running a study examining the performances of all free agents in the history of Major League Baseball versus their expectations at the time of their signing (honestly, that sounds so messy), let's take a look at a much smaller sample size.
Below is a list of Major League Baseball players who were born in South Korea. We'll note their debut and final seasons, but I also want to look at their overall value for their careers and - in a few instances - what their "peak" looked like.
|Name||Pos||Debut Year||Final Year||Seasons||Career fWAR||3-year peak fWAR|
|Park, Chan Ho||RHP||1994||2010||17||21.1||9.4|
|Kim, Sun Woo||RHP||2001||2006||6||1.4||1.3|
|Seo, Jae Weong||RHP||2002||2007||6||5.2||5.4|
|Baek, Cha Seung||RHP||2004||2008||4||3.5||3.1|
|Ryu, Jae Kuk||RHP||2006||2008||3||-0.5||-0.5|
|Kang, Jung Ho||3B||2015||Active||1||3.9||n/a|
In 2013, Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball agreed on a new posting system. Since the implementation of that system, Byung-ho Park's $12.85 million posting fee is the third-highest on record for a Korean ballplayer, following Hyun-Jin Ryu ($25.7 million) and ahead of Park's former teammate Jung Ho Kang ($5 million). Ryu's contract was for six years and $36 million, while Kang's deal is for four years and $11 million. Could Park get a shorter deal worth more money than Ryu? Perhaps not.
Expectations are a funny thing. Looking up and down the list, players like Shin-Soo Choo or Chan Ho Park had some very good years; most players were unable to find a foothold. But most of these players came into Major League Baseball under a different system, meaning that we can't compare dollar amounts on posting fees to determine how desirable those players were in the context of their signing - because we know that the number one place that people will look when talking about Byung-ho Park's expectations will be the money that the Twins end up investing.
What about the players who have been posted since 2013? The Dodgers, while they have more money than they know what to do with, threw nearly $26 million into a posting fee just for the right to negotiate with Ryu because they expect he could be a special pitcher. Expectations for Kang are a bit more modest.
But even those numbers for Ryu and Kang are subjective. How teams view a player's potential will always be different, and how they translate that potential into dollars will be different as well.
All of which is a convoluted way of saying: we have absolutely no idea what realistic expectations for Park will be - or should be. We all hope that the power will play, and that the strikeouts won't be too detrimental, because the best combination of his skills should make him a formidable hitter. And that's what the Twins - and teams all across baseball - were bidding for in the first place: the opportunity and the risk.