ByungHo Park’s major league career hasn’t gone as well as he or the Twins had hoped. After showing initial promise in 2016, the Korean slugger has battled slumps, demotions, and injuries that have kept him in the minor leagues for over a year now.
However, Park has recently turned things around in Triple-A. By all accounts, he’s now healthy, and has hit .270/.329/.468 with eight home runs since the All-Star break. Earlier this week, he hit dingers in three consecutive games, including a three-run whopper to tie the game against the Rail Riders on Tuesday.
So will Twins fans see Park in the majors again before the end of this season?
The answer is probably more complicated that you may think.
The biggest issue with predicting whether Park will be called up isn’t about whether he has earned it, although that is also debatable. Rather, the the biggest issue about Park being called up is the 40-man roster implications. The new front office somewhat surprisingly DFAed Park just before spring training this year, which removed him from the 40-man roster. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Park cleared waivers. Despite a strong spring training where Park hit .353/.414/.745 with a team-leading six home runs in 19 games, the front office declined re-adding him to the 40-man roster. Instead, they sent him to Triple-A to start the regular season.
Although rosters expand in September, which allows teams to give minor leaguers a taste of the big leagues, those players still need to be on the 40-man roster to be called up. Park is still not on the 40-man roster. To be called up, Park would need to be added to the 40-man roster, which is currently full. Hence, the Twins would either need to DFA a different player or perhaps move Hector Santiago to the 60-day DL to make space for Park.
If the Twins did call up Park, great! But then the problem would be what to do with him after the season ends. He’d still be sitting there on the 40-man roster, taking up a spot. Those spots are valuable. The Twins need those spots to protect certain prospects, like Stephen Gonsalves and others, from the Rule 5 draft. They also need spots for Phil Hughes, Trevor May, and Ryan O’Rourke, who technically aren’t taking up space right now because they are on the 60-day DL (and yes, the Twins have to re-add them before the Rule 5 draft). Heck, the Twins might even want to sign some free agents this off season, and they’d need roster spots too.
But here’s the odd thing about Park: He has value, but is still very much a question mark. He played four games in Triple-A to start the season before missing a month with a hamstring injury. When he returned, he didn’t hit well. In the 26 games Park played in Triple-A in June, the so-called slugger didn’t even hit a single home run. Though lately he seems to have turned things around, he’s hardly a proven player—and certainly not a player who has proven he’s worth the remaining $6.5 million he’s owed over the next two years of his contract.
What does that mean? It means the Twins could call Park up this September, DFA him after the season ends to get the 40-man roster spot back, and he would most likely pass through waivers unclaimed, just like he did before. Unless Park was called up and, like, hit a home run every single game in September, I doubt other teams would want to take on the $6.5 million risk of claiming him.
However, it would be Park’s second time being DFAed. That means if Park cleared waivers, he’d have the right to reject an assignment to the minors and elect free agency instead. But here’s the kicker: If Park elected free agency, I’m 96% sure he would have to forfeit the rest of his contract. I researched this and read the CBA for several hours, and it seems like this would be the case for Park. This isn’t a situation like Bartolo Colon and the Braves, where the Braves released Bartolo, but still have to pay him the $8 million or whatever is on his contract. Colon had a ton of MLB service time, and wasn’t offered a minor league assignment.
Park’s case is super unusual. I don’t think there has been any player in the history of baseball before now who was signed to a contract as large as Park’s, had less than three years of service time, and was DFAed twice. All of those factors together put Park in the weird position of being unlikely to be claimed, unlikely to elect free agency, but also still harboring enough potential that releasing him unconditionally doesn’t make a lot of sense either.
If Park wanted to give up on his major league dream, arrange some sort of buyout with the Twins, and return to South Korea, he could do that—but according to reports from the Twins front office and his friend and fellow Korean country-man Shin-Soo Choo, Park has no intention of doing that. So it seems likely Park would accept an assignment to the Twins minor leagues if the team were simply to DFA him again to make more 40-man roster room after the season was over. It almost seems like sort of a loophole in how roster transactions and contracts are supposed to work, but Park’s situation is so unlikely and rare I don’t think anyone ever thought about preventing it.
Now, as mentioned earlier, the other question here is should the Twins give ByungHo Park a September call up? His slow first-half of the season could very well have had to do with his hamstring injury and missing so much time. But he’s been hot lately, and calling him up could give the Twins a chance to see how he is matching up against MLB opponents, while also giving Park more time and experience at the highest level. It could be a good evaluation opportunity.
The Twins may elect to use whatever 40-man roster spots they can clear to call up and evaluate other prospects not currently on the 40-man roster, such as Stephen Gonsalves. Gonsalves will need to be added to the 40-man roster after the season ends anyway to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
But if Park remains scorching hot through the final week or so of the minor league season, why not call him up and see how he’s currently measuring up in the major leagues? Though not apparent at first glance, it actually seems like a pretty low-risk move, given Park’s unusual contract situation.
The Twins, at least seemingly, really have very little to lose here.