The Padres must prioritize extension of Ha-Seong Kim

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Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

As the dust settled on the San Diego Padres’ successful 2020 Covid-shortened season, infield help was not atop the offseason to-do list.

Fernando Tatis Jr. just finished his sophomore season and looked like a perennial MVP candidate for years to come at shortstop. Jake Cronenworth was enjoying a relaxing offseason, having just had the best season of his career, thus most likely securing his spot as the second baseman of the future.

Over at third base, Manny Machado produced a huge bounce-back season after his first one in San Diego was disappointing. Even first base seemed locked up, as Eric Hosmer just turned in what would be by far his best season as a Padre, and his contract was massive. Every single one of those four had an OPS+ well over 100 (league average) and combined for over 144 OPS+ between them, which was the best in baseball for a starting infield in 2020.

Only four other infields accomplished the feat of having everyone above the league average 100 OPS+. The only team that came close to the Padres’ combined infield OPS+ of 144 was the Yankees, led by a massive season from DJ Lemahieu.

With such a strong infield all under contract going into 2021, what made the Padres pursue Ha-Seong Kim?

Typically, when players come over from the big leagues in Korea or Japan, there are major questions regarding how their game and how the numbers will translate to the MLB. Ha-Seong Kim was an established KBO player if not one of the league’s best. He put together seven productive years in Korea, sporting a .294 career average, .866 OPS, 133 homers, with 134 stolen bases.

His 2020 season (his last in Korea) was on par with the rest of the Padres infield that year, batting .306, smacking 30 homers, and swiping 23 bags in the KBO.

With such a monster year before coming to the States to go along with an impressive overall career, it is surprising, to say the least, that Kim did not generate more interest around the MLB. With the way the Padres infield performed in the season prior, it seemed like it would be difficult to find playing time for Kim initially. It looked like the last place he would want to sign. Regardless, A.J. Preller opened the checkbook and locked Kim down for four years and $28 million in total.

Fast forward to more than halfway through the third year of that contract, and it now looks like one of the biggest bargains in the MLB (if not the biggest).

Initially, it looked like Kim would carve out a role as a contributor off the bench, a quality depth piece, and a defensive wizard who could play all over the infield. The bat did not seem to be adjusting as well as maybe he and A.J. Preller had hoped it would, but he seemed to have found a place within the Padres organization. When Tatis’s series of mental meltdowns began, suddenly Kim found himself with a real opportunity to prove he was a key piece of the organization. The Korean infielder turned in a solid sophomore season filling in for Tatis, yet it was still not enough to make him the shortstop of the future. Preller proceeded to spend another $280 million on a shortstop, and Kim’s role was uncertain once more.

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However, despite the mountains of adversity, Ha-Seong Kim has turned into one of the MLB’s best players in year three.

Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Turning 28 in October, Kim is still very much on the better side of 30. He will play his age 28 season under contract next year and is currently scheduled to enter free agency after that. The Padres cannot let him do that. When Kim’s name is mentioned as one of the league’s best players, it is not anything close to an exaggeration. He meets every definition of a well-rounded player.

Does he make contact? .284 batting average. Does he walk, though? Yep. His OBP stands at .380. What about pop? He has 15 HRs (which puts him on a 25-homer pace). Is he a factor on the base paths? He’s got 22 steals. What about defense? Oh yeah, he happens to be tied for third in defensive WAR across the MLB. All of this equates to an elite 134 OPS+ at the plate, 1.8 defensive WAR, and a 5.4 total WAR. That puts him third in the entire MLB in WAR, sitting right behind the (huge) MVP favorites in each league, Ronald Acuña and Shohei Ohtani. That says a lot.

Kim is quietly putting together this season of dominance across the board while getting paid seven million dollars. For anyone wondering, that doesn’t even come close to the required salary this season to crack the league’s top 50 highest-paid players list, which is sitting at $20 million for the 2023 season.

For a guy third in WAR across all players in Major League Baseball to not even come close to the top 100 in pay is the definition of either a bargain or just a straight-up robbery. No matter where he’s going to end up playing, Kim must be extended as soon as possible.

If the Padres are proactive and get deep into discussions now, they could potentially still keep him long-term at a discount. What should be in order is something around a seven-year, $150 million extension that would take effect in 2025. This would keep Kim a Padre through his age 35 season at a respectable annual value.

For a guy that will do so many things for you, this should be a low-risk extension.  As Kim ages, some parts of his game may slowly deteriorate. However, his versatility will also minimize a great amount of risk. A.J. Preller may not have been 100% confident in Kim’s fit initially for the Padres, but clearly, he was right to sign him for his unbelievable talent.

Preller should now reward himself by keeping his hidden gem in San Diego long term.

1 thought on “The Padres must prioritize extension of Ha-Seong Kim

  1. Yes, in a vacuum they should sign him (but AJ will massively overpay), but this will continue to downgrade Jake.

    If they had the guts, they would extend Kim, and play him at short, and Jake at 2nd, and put X … at first? DH? He is not exactly horrible at SS, but to maximize value it would be best to play X at 1st. But the Padres do not have the fortitude to make this decision.

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