As the Boston Red Sox start shaping their 2016 roster, most rumors around the club indicate that Hanley Ramirez — the slugging former shortstop, turned outfielder, who is pegged to move to first base as his next stop — will somehow be let go by the team’s new President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski.
The question remains, if those rumors come true, who replaces Ramirez?
Now, new rumors reported in the Boston Herald on Friday say that Dombrowksi and the Red Sox could look to the east to find a lower-cost replacement for the 31-year-old Ramirez, who will be owed $22.75 million next year, and each of the following two years as well.
No, not the American League East. The Red Sox could be looking to the Far East for their next power-hitting first baseman.
The Herald reported that Boston has already sent scouts to evaluate 29-year-old Byung-ho Park, who plays for the Nexen Heroes of the 10-team Korean Baseball Organization, South Korea’s top professional baseball league.
The attraction? Park belted 53 home runs in 662 plate appearances for the Heroes in 2015, which followed a year when he hit 52 in 571 PAs. He boasts an impressive .951 OPS in Korean pro baseball and is said to possess strong defensive skills as well, despite his stocky, 6’1″, nearly 200-pound frame, which had him come into the KBO in 2005 as a catcher.
But the Nexen Heroes finished in last place this year and no higher than seventh since 2011 when Park joined the team — so they apparently figure they can finish in the KBO basement without him.
Last week the Korean league asked Major League Baseball to “post” Park, meaning that MLB teams had until 5 p.m. Friday to submit sealed bids simply for the right to negotiate with the slugger. Whether the Red Sox posted one of those bids is not yet known. But the Nexen club is expected, according to the Herald report, to announce the winner of the bidding on Monday, November 9.
That winner will then have 30 days to try to come to terms with the player himself on salary and any other contractual considerations.
But the Korean league is generally considered to be inferior, competitively, even to Japan’s Nippon Pro Baseball league — so how will Park perform against Major League pitching? His fellow KBO star, Jung Ho Kang of the Pittsburgh Pirates, is generally being seen as a benchmark for judging Park.
After signing for $11 million over four years with the Pirates — who won a $5 million posting bid — Kang posted an .816 OPS with 15 homers in 2015, after belting 40 round trippers in the KBO the previous year.
But Park is expected to fetch a higher price tag than Kang. How much higher?
“Based on Kang’s performance, there has been a lot more optimism regarding Park’s potential,” Alan Nero, agent to both Korean players, said. “As I said last year with Kang, if he were Cuban (and not subject to the posting process), he would have got $100 million. The same is true of Park. Power pays.”
But the Red Sox are far from the only Major League Baseball team intrigued by Byung Ho Park. The Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals, and, of course, New York Yankees have reportedly also sent scouts to assess the Korean slugger, and all may have placed bids for the rights to negotiate with Park as well — assuming the Red Sox actually made a bid of their own.
The Red Sox interest, however, would depend on their ability to move Hanley Ramirez — and that would mean finding a team who needs a designated hitter, and would also mean in all likelihood Boston is agreeing to pay a huge portion of the money owed to Ramirez. If not, the Red Sox will start 2016 with Ramirez attempting to learn another new position at first base.
[Featured Photo By Maddie Meyer / Getty Images]