Nearing deal with Minnesota Twins, Park Byung-ho departs for US

November 30, 2015
South Korean baseball player Park Byung-ho (Facebook)

South Korean baseball player Park Byung-ho (Facebook)

INCHEON (Yonhap) — Nearing his first big league deal with the Minnesota Twins, South Korean slugger Park Byung-ho departed for the United States on Sunday, saying he’s hoping for “a positive result.”

Park told reporters assembled at Incheon International Airport that he will look to wrap up contract talks and is scheduled to undergo a physical with the Twins, who won the posting bid on Nov. 9 with a bid of US$12.85 million.

The Twins were awarded a 30-day negotiating window with Park, and the deadline falls at 5 p.m. on Dec. 8 (Eastern Standard Time), which is 7 a.m. on Dec. 9 in South Korea.

“I heard about the Twins’ offer through my agent (Alan Nero of Octagon),” Park said. “There are some things we need to go over with the club. I hope to be able to return with a positive result.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported earlier that Park is believed to be seeking a multiyear deal and will earn “likely somewhere between $5-10 million per season.” The player himself said the offer fell short of what the media have reported or what the fans may have expected, but added, “It certainly doesn’t mean I am not satisfied with the offer.”

“I hope to be playing in as many games as possible,” Park said. “I am approaching (the upcoming contract talks) with a positive mind.”

Park has been one of the most feared sluggers in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) over the past four seasons, all of them with the Nexen Heroes. In 2015, Park set career highs in Triple Crown categories with a .343 average, 53 home runs and 146 RBIs — a KBO single-season record — in 140 games. He also established personal bests with a .714 slugging percentage, 181 hits, 129 runs scored and 35 doubles this year.

He is the only KBO player to hit 50 or more home runs in two straight seasons and to lead the league in home runs and RBIs in four years in a row.

Park said his power is his main strength and it will be the key to his successful transition to the majors.

“I’m going to have to face hard-throwing pitchers, and my ability to hit for power will make or break my big league career,” Park said. “I will do the best I can, feeling proud of being in the league with the greatest players in the world. There will be difficulties along the way but I will try to adjust.”

If Park reaches a deal with the Twins, he will become the second KBO position player to ink a Major League Baseball (MLB) contract via posting, following his former Nexen teammate, Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Park said he hopes to match Kang’s successful rookie season. Kang finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, after batting .287/.355/.461 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games.

“As I’ve done in Korea, I won’t set any specific statistical goals or discuss them publicly,” Park said. “I hope to put up good numbers as Kang did. I spoke to him after Minnesota won the bid. We didn’t talk about the contract but he told me things will work themselves out after a month (in the majors).”

Park, primarily a first baseman who took spring training reps at third, will be joining a crowded infield on the Twins. Former MVP-winning catcher Joe Mauer is now the team’s everyday first baseman. The incumbent third baseman, Trevor Plouffe, led the Twins with 86 RBIs in 2015 while blasting 22 home runs.

The Twins have said they wanted their designated hitter Miguel Sano, who finished third in the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year voting after belting 18 homers in 80 games, to get some winter ball reps in the outfield. A third baseman in the minors, Sano underwent Tommy John surgery to reconstruct a torn ligament in his right elbow last year and appeared in just nine games at the hot corner this year.

If Sano fails to make the transition to left, he could take over Plouffe at third base and move the veteran to the trading block, while Park could become the new DH and spell Mauer at first base from time to time.

Park said he’s willing to take on a new role as the club sees fit.

“I have no problem with being the DH,” he said. “Obviously, I prefer to take the field but I also have to make adjustments in a new environment.”

Under their first-year manager Paul Molitor, the Twins were among the pleasant surprises in the American League (AL) this year with an 83-79 record, their first winning season since 2010.

The Twins’ offensive production, though, left much to be desired, as they ranked in the lower half of the AL in hits (14th), home runs (10th), slugging percentage (12th) and extra-base hits (10th).

The Twins’ first basemen combined for only 14 home runs and 66 RBIs, both second from the bottom in the AL, while slashing just .265/.334/.392.

Mauer, 32, has not hit with the kind of power that helped him hit 28 homers and win the AL MVP in 2009. The three-time AL batting champion also hit a career-low .265 this year with 10 home runs. Last year, he had four home runs in 455 at-bats.

In addition to Sano and second baseman Brian Dozier, who led the Twins with 28 homers in 2015, Park could provide some right-handed punch.