Last week the Twins made a bit of a surprising move when they DFAed Byung Ho Park, exposing him to waivers and potential claims by other teams. At the time, opinions differed pretty wildly about whether such a claim would be made.
Almost 70% say Park will get picked up by another team | Poll: Byung Ho Park’s Future https://t.co/FMuzV4V5QP— Tom Froemming (@BaseballByTom) February 6, 2017
Dave Cameron wrote a piece for FanGraphs on the matter and sounded pretty sure that Park would not remain with the Twins, saying, in part:
Given they minimal salary commitment, I can’t imagine Park is actually going to clear waivers. $3 million per year is nothing in this day and age, and with a multi-year deal, there’s some upside with Park that doesn’t exist if you sign, say, Chris Carter, to a one year contract.
[T]he White Sox currently project to have Matt Davidson as their starting DH, and Steamer is forecasting him for a 73 wRC+ and -1 WAR. I would imagine the Twins would rather not trade Park to the White Sox, but if it comes down to waivers, there’s no way Chicago should let him get past them.
Park’s upside is probably something like an average player, so he’s worth the $9 million gamble to see if he can make enough contact to hold down a roster spot. For $9 million with a potential three year payout, there’s just not much risk here, and enough upside for another team to take a low-risk flyer on a guy with serious power. One could reasonably argue that the Twins should have kept him around and hoped to find enough playing time to be the team that got some value out of a potential improvement, but since they just had to have Matt Belisle pitching the seventh inning in a non-contention year, some other franchise will now get to make a bet on Park’s cheap upside.
Well, guess what? Park cleared waivers. He’ll remain with the Twins and still attend big league spring training camp.
In fact, he could still even make the team’s opening day roster. When the Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse recently asked Park about the demotion through his interpreter, he said:
“Derek Falvey called him and explained the decision. He said don’t pay too much attention to the media, which probably will say the Twins now have everything planned for him (to be in the minor leagues).
“Falvey said he still is in the picture to make the team, and to have a good spring training.’’
Reusse also noted in his piece that Red Wings pitching coach Stew Cliburn raved about Park’s power, attitude, and potential. “He’s a great young man; very positive,” Cilburn said. “He’s nice to everyone—teammates, the guys in the clubhouse and around the ballpark, and the fans.”
So what’s the deal? Park still has a good shot at starting in the majors this year, a fair contract, tons of potential, and a great attitude to boot. Why wasn’t he claimed? Does he really actually just suck?
Well, sort of—although that would be a simplified and only partial answer. We don’t know for sure why no one wanted to claim Park, but there several possible factors going on here.
1. Park is still unproven
This is the basic “because he sucks” answer, although it should more accurately be described as “because he hasn’t proven he doesn’t suck.” Park came out of the gates in 2016 actually looking pretty okay, hitting six home runs in his first 19 games, including a mammoth 466 foot shot a Target Field—the longest home run ever hit at the stadium.
It was sometime in May when Park started slumping, which we later learned could have been due to some nagging wrist issues. After hitting just .191/.275/.409 through 62 games in the majors, he was demoted to Triple-A, where he spent about a month before the wrist issues worsened. He had season-ending surgery on the wrist at the end of August.
There were other noticeable issues with Park beyond the wrist: His timing was off against MLB’s faster pitches. He had problems recognizing breaking balls. He struck-out a lot. He didn’t understand why all his teammates all wanted to watch “The Bachelor”.
While Park did show a lot of intriguing potential, there’s obviously still a lot of questions about his actual ability in the majors, and furthermore, his health.
2. The price was not right
Had another team claimed Park, they would have had to take over the remainder of his contract—$9.4 million over the next two seasons. There were arguments on both sides as to whether this hurt or helped Park’s chances of being claimed. On one side, $3 million-ish a year for a player with a lot of potential isn’t that big of a risk. On the other side, it was still a risk of frickin’ $9.4 million, total.
Interestingly enough, while Park was on waivers, his free agent comparison, Chris Carter, signed a deal with the Yankees. That contract? $3 million for one year, which is even cheaper and less risky than Park’s deal—and Carter really did, in fact and not just theory, hit 41 home runs last year.
If one assumes Park will live up to his potential, his contract seems like a steal. The problem is, as mentioned, he hasn’t proven he can do that—which brings me to my next point...
3. Fangraphs has always been super high on Park
As shown in the quote above, Fangraph’s Dave Cameron seemed to be one of the strongest believers that Park would be claimed. While Cameron had a valid argument, it’s worth pointing out that Fangraphs as a whole has been higher on Park than a lot of others. Their staff voted him as the likely AL Rookie of the Year in their 2016 season predictions (didn’t happen), and even just the day before the Twins DFAed Park, the site ran a piece urging the team not to give up on him (sort of did happen).
Fangraphs isn’t necessarily wrong on Park. I mean, that’s the whole problem—nobody really knows yet. Given the fact Park has had very little time playing in America, let alone the majors, maybe Fangraphs’ projections are less than accurate? In any case, what they think doesn’t seem to match up with what other major league front offices think.
4. Cultural logistics?
While this probably didn’t play a role in Park not being claimed, it’s something that came up in my mind: What exactly would the logistics of claiming a new Korean player entail? I assume Park’s same translator would just go with him to a new team, since not all teams are required to already have a Korean translator like they are with Spanish translators.
Okay, not really a biggie—but are there other things? What about the teams’ marketing deals with companies in South Korea? And broadcasting rights? I know these agreements exist to some extent. The Twins sent an entire team to Seoul last year to explore such opportunities, and David Kim, Twins scout based in Asian, said it was the first time he could remember seeing people wearing Twins stuff in South Korea. Would these deals go along with Park to a new team?
Also, what did teams think about forcing Park to make even more personal and cultural adjustments by claiming him? Sure, he’s already been in America for a season, and even had to move to Rochester, but coming form South Korea is a huge change and Park is still adjusting. Maybe other teams were hesitant about how forcing even more changes on Park would affect his performance.
This is all pure speculation on my part, and in any case, I highly doubt these concerns alone would stop a team from making a claim. But when combined with the additional factors above, it certainly doesn’t help a claim look easier or less risky.
So no, I don’t think you can explain why Park wasn’t claimed just by saying he sucks. In reality, the giant risk Park posed for several reasons was probably what scared teams off. If that’s precisely what Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were banking on, kudos to them.
Now let’s hope Park goes out there and smashes some monster park bangs in 2017 and makes the new front office look even smarter.