Ross Atkins has hinted that the Blue Jays might be considering foreign players for the 2017 Jays roster. Might Ah-Seop Son of the Korean League be on their radar?
In a recent interview with Tim & Sid, Ross Atkins was asked whether his primary focus in the 2016-17 offseason would be trades. Ross’ reply was interesting. He said “Whether internal, free agent, trade or someone who’s not currently playing domestically … we’ll consider every angle possible to build depth” (emphasis mine). Was this just a generic “we will consider anything”, or is this a hint that the Jays are (finally!) going to seriously consider the international market?
Remember that back in 2006, when Mark Shipiro was GM of Cleveland, he traded for Shin-Soo Choo (arguably the first Korean superstar) from the Mariners. Choo went on to play seven excellent (and cheap) seasons for the Tribe. So both Mark and Ross are very familiar with the value that can be found overseas.
So suppose that Shapkins are seriously looking outside of the Americas for depth options. What might they be looking for, and who might be on their radar screen?
Let’s play the wishing game.
Suppose the Blue Jays could custom-design a left fielder for 2017. What would they look for?
They would probably want a left-handed bat with a high on-base percentage, not too many strikeouts, a bit of power, and experience at batting leadoff. On the bases, fast and smart. Defensively, he should be at least average. And he should be relatively young, but with some experience (say, 24-29). And cheap.
I have a player in mind. He is 28, and has been playing professionally since he was 19. In 2016, his batting line was .322/.420/.475 with a K% of 15.2% and a BB% of 14.1%. He stole 40 bases, and batted leadoff the entire season.
Problem is, Ah-Seop Son did all that in Korea.
Son has been described as an Ichiro-lite in that he is small (5’9″) without great power. But he is a good baserunner who hits to all fields. He is expected to be posted by his home team Lotte Giants again in 2016 (he was posted in 2015, but received no bids). The closest major league comparable that most scouts use is Nori Aoki.
Why do I like Son?
First and foremost, his skill set is a good match for what the Jays need. Not a particular power threat, but a contact-hitting, on-base machine (even in Korea, a K-BB% of 1.1% is scary good) and a natural leadoff hitter with experience in that role.
Second, I like the risk:reward. It is all but certain that Son will not have a .895 OPS in the majors. But he could be very valuable at much less. And he is expected to garner a contract less lucrative than his countryman Jung-Ho “King” Kang, who earned a $5 million posting fee and a 4/$11m contract (Kang’s 3.9 WAR in 2015 earned almost double this value – and that was in 126 games). If the Jays could sign Son for a total of (say) 4/$12m, their downside would be limited. And since this is the last year that Son can be posted and his team receive a fee (Son will be an unrestricted free agent after 2017), the Giants should be motivated to make a deal work.
And finally, I am optimistic that skills like hustle, a good batting eye, and a batting style based on the intelligent use of all fields will translate better to the North American game than raw power. I, for one, would be very happy with Ichiro-lite.
The bottom line
In order to win, any mlb team needs to take some risks. The key is to identify which risks make sense. Given the Jays’ need for speed and OBP, Son looks like a good gamble to me.