You probably don’t need to look at any of the myriad free agency projections to know there’s going to be a lot of variance in the numbers. For instance, MLB Trade Rumors has Trevor Bauer is going to the Dodgers on a four-year $128 million deal that would be the largest of the winter, while ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel has the churlish social media bully getting $31 million for one year. That’s very indicative of MLB’s financial volatility, but perhaps not as much so as a potential Cubs target.
Korean infielder Ha-Seong Kim will be posted by his KBO team, the Kiwoom Heroes, following stellar production at the plate and strong defense. At only 25, he’ll still be in his prime for several years and has both the speed and contact ability to help mitigate the transition to a higher level of competition. McDaniel isn’t nearly as bullish on Kim as former FanGraphs colleague Eric Longenhagen, at least not when it comes to tools, hence a relatively low prediction
In his breakdown of every MLB free agent (ESPN+) this offseason (pending non-tenders), McDaniel ranked Kim No. 15 and wrote that he “might not have an above-average carrying tool.” Longenhagen scored him as a 70 arm and 60 runner, saying he has everyday talent. That’s where we get the disparity in salary predictions, with McDaniel going five years, $20 million and MLBTR citing FanGraphs by ranking Kim No. 7 and going for $40 million over the same period.
One of those figures could be doable for the Cubs, since $4 million AAV ought to be palatable. Should they not end up bringing back Tommy La Stella, who’s projected at two years for $14-20 million, Kim provides the kind of contact bat and maybe even the versatility the Cubs need. He played primarily shortstop in the KBO, but also manned third frequently and could almost certainly handle second or even the outfield in a pinch.
He’s a right-handed batter and the Cubs would probably rather have a lefty, all things considered, but price is most definitely a consideration. So if McDaniel is anywhere close to correct on his numbers, this is something the Cubs should be all over. Not only is the overall contract very reasonable, but the posting fee would be significantly less as well. The MLB team that signs Kim must pay his former team a fee equal to 20% of the first $25 million, plus 17.5% of the next $25 million, and an additional 15% on anything beyond $50 million.
As loath as Tom Ricketts has been to spend what he refers to as dead-weight money, he could easily get $4 million by selling a few hundredths of a percent of the team to a rich buddy. After all, that’s how they say they financed all the renovations around the ballpark that ran around 100% over budget.
Another factor that remains to be seen is how the market will drive teams to find value for both the present and future. The Cubs aren’t alone in trying to reduce their payroll expenses, but having security into the uncertain future is important as well even if it comes with a little more risk from a performance standpoint. So a guy who’s got time to grow into his role and offers toolsy potential at a premium position could buck the overall contract trends to some extent.
Then you’ve got the Mets, who could actually have their own gravitational pull this winter as new owner Steve Cohen swims briskly against current spending trends. That pull is going to attract players at the top of the market, perhaps creating more robust competition for those in the middle tiers and driving up the price for Kim and others. Or maybe everyone stays cheap and we can be mad when the Cubs don’t pursue a player who looks like a great fit.