MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins have won the bidding for negotiating rights to Byung Ho Park, a 29-year-old first baseman who totaled 105 home runs over the past two seasons in the hitter-friendly Korea Baseball Organization.
The notice from Park’s team, the Nexen Heroes, that Minnesota’s bid was the highest was announced Monday by Major League Baseball. The posting fee was not disclosed by either MLB or the Twins, who said they wouldn’t comment on the process “out of respect” for Park and the Heroes. But according to multiple reports, the amount was $12.85 million.
Per KBO rules, the Twins have a 30-day exclusive negotiating period to sign Park to a contract. In the interim, Park will remain under control of the Heroes. If for some reason a deal isn’t reached, the Twins would get their bid money back.
Park has a career .951 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in nine professional seasons in the KBO. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound Park batted .343 in 2015 with 53 home runs and 146 RBIs in 140 games with 161 strikeouts.
His best fit with the Twins will probably be as a designated hitter, with Joe Mauer and the $69 million over three years remaining on his contract entrenched at first base. That leaves a logjam at third base with arbitration-eligible incumbent Trevor Plouffe, assuming he isn’t traded, and young slugger Miguel Sano, who hit 18 home runs in 80 games this season as a rookie. The Twins don’t want Sano to be a full-time designated hitter, so they’ll look at him as a corner outfielder.
With the retirement of right fielder Torii Hunter, there’s more of an opening in the outfield, though the Twins still have Byron Buxton, Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario to sort out. Rosario had a solid rookie year in left field, Hicks finally emerged as a productive major league hitter and Buxton has been widely considered the top prospect in baseball. Buxton could always start 2016 in Triple-A for more seasoning, and Hicks could be considered as a trade chip.
Whichever way the lineup shakes out for those six positions, the Twins have legitimate options, a sign of progress following four straight years averaging 96 losses from 2011-14. They finished 83-79, good enough to stay in the AL wild-card race until the second-to-last day of the season.
One of the first setbacks of that four-year fall for the Twins was the acquisition of middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who lasted less than two seasons after signing a three-year, $9.25 million deal after the Twins paid a $5.3 million posting fee to his team in Japan.
MLB’s agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball recently changed to cap posting fees at $20 million and allow multiple major league teams to negotiate. The Korean league still has the same system as the Japanese league used to, essentially a silent auction with no limit on the bid for exclusive negotiating rights.