Park Byung-ho pleased with Twins contract, ready for adjustments

December 3, 2015
(Minnesota Twins' Facebook page)

(Minnesota Twins’ Facebook page)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — South Korean slugger Park Byung-ho, unveiled as the newest member of the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday, said he had no issues with what some regard as a modest contract with the Major League Baseball (MLB) club, adding he is ready to tackle challenges that lie ahead.

Park, one of the most feared sluggers in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in recent years, was introduced as the newest Twin at Target Field, the club’s home park in Minneapolis, on Wednesday, a day after signing a four-year deal worth US$12 million, with a club option for 2020 at $6.5 million. The deal made Park, 29, only the second KBO position player to make the jump to the majors via posting, after his former Nexen Heroes teammate, Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Twins had earlier submitted $12.85 million in their posting bid and earned themselves an exclusive right to negotiate with Park for 30 days. The deadline was set at next Tuesday but the two sides didn’t need to wait that long to get their deal done.

The amount of guaranteed money fell short of what both the U.S. and the South Korean media had predicted. The total value of a contract typically exceeds that of a posting bid, but the Twins ended up signing Park for less than what they put up just to talk to him.

At his introductory news conference, Park stressed he wasn’t upset about the deal.

“There was no problem signing with Minnesota,” he said. “I think Minnesota made a challenging offer and I was satisfied with the amount. I felt great signing the contract.”

Park is coming off a productive 2015 season in the KBO, establishing 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 set personal bests with a .714 slugging percentage, 181 hits, 129 runs scored and 35 doubles this year.

It capped off a dominant four-year stretch in which he won two MVPs, finished second in voting twice, and hit 173 home runs with 492 RBIs. He only missed four out of a possible 533 games in that span.

Park is the only KBO player to lead the league in home runs and RBIs in four straight years, and the only one to hit 50 or more home runs in consecutive seasons.

Park is a late bloomer who didn’t become an everyday player until the second half of 2011, his fifth KBO season. He said his experience of having overcome adversity should help him in the new surroundings.

“I went through some tough times and became a better player when I joined Nexen (in a midseason trade in 2011),” he said. “I was able to fix my shortcomings as I got to play more games for Nexen. I’ve had to alter my swing to hit pitches with a lot of movements. I am confident I can make necessary adjustments here.”

Asked if he felt he could handle a sinking fastball clocking at 95 miles per hour, Park said good results will come with time.

“Kang Jung-ho told me pitchers here are different than the KBO pitchers, in that they throw harder with more movements,” Park spoke of his conversation with his former KBO teammate. “He said he found it difficult to adjust early on, but he grew more confident at the plate as he started playing more games.”

Park could provide some right-handed pop alongside second baseman Brian Dozier, who hit a team-high 28 home runs in 2015, and third baseman Trevor Plouffe, who drove in a career-high 86 runs to lead the team.

With former MVP-winning catcher Joe Mauer now playing first base, Park, a natural first baseman himself, could become the Twins’ new everyday DH. Miguel Sano, a third baseman in the minors, was the primary DH as a rookie in 2015 and responded with 18 homers in 80 games. He will get some winter ball reps in left field as the Twins look to make room for Park’s bat in the lineup.

If Sano’s transition doesn’t pan out, the Twins could deal Plouffe for pitching and put Sano at the hot corner.

Park reiterated that he has no problem being the DH.

“In Korea, I played as DH in about 15 games at most in a season,” Park said. “But if the Twins want me to be the DH, I think I can serve in that role well. My job is to prepare for whatever the team asks.”

Park may occasionally spell the 32-year-old Mauer at first base. The three-time American League batting champion hit a career-low .265 this year with 10 home runs. Last year, he had just four home runs in 455 at-bats. Mauer has seen his on-base percentage nosedive from an AL-leading .416 in 2012 to a career-worst .338 in 2015, while his strikeout totals went up from 88 to 112 in the same span.

Terry Ryan, the Twins’ general manager, called Park “a good pro” and praised his versatility.

“He’s going to DH for the majority of the time with Joe at first,” Ryan said. “But he’s certainly athletic enough and has the defensive ability to play first.”

The Twins were a pleasant surprise in the AL with an 83-79 record under the rookie manager, Paul Molitor. They enjoyed their first winning season in 2010 despite mediocre offense — they ranked in the lower half of the AL in hits (14th), home runs (10th), slugging percentage (12th) and extra-base hits (10th).

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