On Wednesday, Travis Sawchik wrote about why there are still reasons for optimism surrounding Byung-ho Park, despite a rough first year in the major leagues. The piece was titled “Don’t Quit on Byung-ho Park”, but two days later, the Twins have done exactly that, designating him for assignment in order to clear a roster spot for Matt Belisle.
This is a bit of a surprising decision because, a year ago, the Twins paid a $13 million posting fee to acquire Park’s rights. But that was a different front office with different evaluators, and the new management team in Minnesota apparently decided that Park wasn’t worth keeping on the 40-man roster, so they’ll either trade him or expose him to waivers, where any team who wants to take a shot on the bounce back would be on the hook for the roughly $9 million in guaranteed money he has coming over the next three years.
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. And as Sawchik noted in his piece, anyone who was thinking about signing Carter to a cut-rate deal should probably be interested in Park too.
Borrowing a couple of tables from Sawchik’s piece.
|Rank||Player||Batted balls tracked||Barrels/Batted ball %|
And this one.
|Rank||Player||Batted balls||Avg. FB/LD exit velo (mph)|
Like Carter, Park hits the crap out of the baseball when he makes contact. And, like Carter, he doesn’t make enough contact. But if you’re okay with the swing-for-the-fences-and-whiff-a-lot approach, well, Park actually made more contact than Carter did last year.
Of course, having a lot of similarities to a free agent who can’t find a home isn’t really an argument in favor of Park having a lot of value. Perhaps the Twins decided to DFA Park in part because of the league’s reticence to signing Carter, thinking that perhaps with Carter still willing to sign a one year contract, that maybe Park will slip through waivers. Or, more interestingly, maybe they DFA’d Park because they want to sign Carter themselves; that would be a fun twist to this story.
Of course, that’s pretty unlikely. The reality is that, while Park remains interesting on his own merits, there might not have been much playing time for him in Minnesota. With Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas ahead of him on the 1B/DH depth chart, Park was probably ticketed for a platoon role, and maybe even a limited platoon role given that Vargas is a switch-hitter who hits lefties better than righties, so Park was only likely to play when Mauer wasn’t in the line-up. Neither Mauer nor Vargas are great players, but Mauer has some franchise icon appeal, and Vargas is both probably better and definitely younger, so giving him the bulk of the DH time is likely a better long-term investment.
Park probably fits better on a team that doesn’t already have a Kennys Vargas to DH, or a local hero making $23 million a year at first base. The power makes him worth another shot, and given the state of several teams 1B/DH positions, I’m pretty sure the Twins will find someone to take the rest of Park’s contract off their hands.
For instance, the Rangers seem to want to give Joey Gallo more time in Triple-A this year, but if they send him back to the minors, they would be penciled in to start Ryan Rua and Jurickson Profar as their 1B and DH options. Sure, everyone still expects them to sign Mike Napoli to play one of those two spots, but Park would still be an upgrade over Rua/Profar at the other position, and give them a cheap source of power while they figure out what Gallo might be.
Alternately, the A’s might also be interested, given that they were hunting for right-handed DHs earlier this winter, and currently have some combination of Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healy at their 1B/DH spots. In a year that is unlikely to result in a playoff berth, taking a shot on Park’s power is probably worth some playing time. Or, if we’re looking for a rebuilding team who needs a DH, the 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.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.