Padres GM A.J. Preller came into the job with a reputation for being good with scouting and signing international players and prospects. Last offseason, he missed out on Yasmany Tomas, Yoan Moncada, and Jung-ho Kang. The Padres also recently failed to attract Cuban defector and center fielder Eddy Julio Martinez. There is another international player that will be heading to the market soon and Preller should aggressively pursue him.
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The player’s name is Ah-seop Son. The Korean Baseball Organization’s Lotte Giants plan on posting him this offseason, according to Yonhap News Agency. He will be posted on November 1. At that point, all 30 MLB teams will enter a blind bidding war over the rights to negotiate exclusively with Son. If the Lotte Giants don’t accept the highest bid as being good enough, Son will return to Korea for the 2016 season. However, if they do agree to a bid, that team will have 30 days to negotiate a contract.
Onto Son himself: the left fielder will turn 28 just before the 2016 season begins. He made his debut at the age of 19 with Lotte and has been a regular for the past six seasons. In his 853 games, Son has a batting line of .323/.398/.462/.860 and has averaged 14 steals per year since becoming a full-time player. Though only 5-foot-9 and 187-pounds, Son clubbed a career high 18 home runs in 122 games in 2014. His consistent .375+ on-base is fabulous and his overall .398 surpasses now-Pirate infielder Jung-ho Kang’s career KBO on-base by 15 points.
The knocks on Son would be his size and the fact that the KBO plays in a hitter-friendly league. These factors should bring Son’s value down below that of the KBO’s 2014 MVP Kang. The Pirates paid just over $5 million to negotiate with Kang, according to Yonhap, and signed him to a four-year deal worth $11 million guaranteed, with a team option for year five valued at $5.5 million. That was for a guy who played 126 games and had a .287/.355/.461/.816 slashline.
We don’t yet know if Son would be as good as Kang. Their offensive production matches up, though. With an ample supply of corner outfielders such as Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, and Jason Heyward hitting the free agent market, demand for Son should be lower than it would be in other years. Perhaps that means the Lotte Giants won’t get the offer they desire. But that could also mean that the Padres are one of only a few teams that shows interest.
Preller is not going to sign Cespedes, Upton, or Heyward in all likelihood. Son is worth the risk if the Padres pay the amount the Pirates paid for Kang, and it seems as though no team will have to.
If the Padres do get Son, they will add a much needed on-base first kind of player. Not to mention, he’s left-handed.
Son could be the left-handed bat the Padres go after this winter. Chris Davis will be expensive and comes with his own defensive defects and offensive risks. Signing Son would allow Wil Myers to move mostly to first base – a position at which has Gold Glove potential. Myers also was a better hitter while manning first and should be able to remain off the disabled list a little easier due to a reduced workload from in the outfield. So, potentially, the Pads could improve at two positions with one signing and have trade bait in Yonder Alonso.
Instead of paying top dollar for someone like Davis, which is unlikely, Preller could have some wiggle-room to add a middle of the rotation starter or a shortstop that the Padres need more desperately than any other position.