The free agent cupboard lays barren, picked over of all the options worth stirring into a team’s recipe for success in 2023. Thus, any impactful addition will have to arrive from the trade market. It feels like we’ve covered every left fielder who could plausibly find his name floated in trade talks, so today I thought we could take the trade target series in a different direction.
Last Thursday, Dennis Lin of The Athletic reported that the Padres could make a pair of offensive starters available for trade as they pursue starting pitching. On Monday, I looked at Trent Grisham’s prospective fit on the Yankees roster. Today, I’d like to examine the other player mentioned by name in that article, Ha-Seong Kim.
2022 Stats: 150 games, 582 PA, .251/.325/.383, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 12 SB, 105 wRC+, 3.7 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Entering third year of four-year, $28 million contract signed prior to 2021 season. Has two years, $15 million remaining, plus $8 million mutual option with $2 million buyout for 2025.
Before we dive into Kim’s player profile, we have to acknowledge that the Yankees have shown no indication of budging off their stopgap shortstop scheme hatched last winter. They appear to be plowing straight ahead with Isiah Kiner-Falefa or Oswald Peraza as Opening Day starter with a chance of seeing Anthony Volpe at some point midseason. They passed on basically every star shortstop in the game over this offseason and last, so it’s difficult to envision them changing their stance for Kim. But perhaps they could view him as an extension of the stopgap strategy rather than a replacement for it.
Surrounded by a trio of superstars whose names tend to overshadow the role players around them, Kim was quietly one of the most productive players for the Padres last season. His 3.7 fWAR placed him as the 11th-most valuable qualified shortstop in 2022 and more than double the value the Yankees received from the position. Elite defense provided the bulk of that value, while on the other side of the ball, Kim sat around the top quartile leaguewide in strikeout rate, whiff rate, chase rate, and sprint speed.
I like to think of Kim as the rich man’s Kiner-Falefa: a high-contact hitter with poor batted-ball metrics, decent speed, and the ability to field multiple positions around the diamond. The difference is that Kim does each of those things much better than the Yankees incumbent.
For starters, Kim placed in the 95th percentile in shortstop Outs Above Average at +8 outs while Kiner-Falefa languished in the 17th percentile at -3 outs. Kim is in the upper-third of the league when it comes to arm strength while Kiner-Falefa places in the bottom-quarter. Most importantly, Kim showed after a disappointing debut season that he could produce at an above-average clip thanks to improving his strikeout, whiff, and zone contact rates while Kiner-Falefa has never approached league-average production in a full season.
You may ask yourself why the Padres would even consider trading a player of Kim’ skillset and team-friendly contract, but San Diego is staring at a logjam in the infield with Fernando Tatis Jr.’s return from suspension (though there are some indications that Tatis is ticketed for a move to the outfield). They have five starting-caliber players to man four positions, and may see this as the perfect time to cash in on an area of surplus as well as the value Kim accrued with his career year.
For what it’s worth, the Padres are not exactly shopping Kim so much as remaining open to offers should someone come in and blow them away. They love his defense at short and feel it would transfer seamlessly to second to accommodate new signing Xander Bogaerts. And the fact that they seek major league starting pitching pushes the Yankees down on the list of potential suitors.
However, this should not deter the Yankees from testing his availability. Kim seems like the perfect candidate to step in and extend the stopgap shortstop window, allowing the Yankees to be patient with Volpe and Peraza. All of a sudden, there’s a good deal less pressure on the pair to come up and produce right away if the Yankees have a Gold Glove finalist at short this year and next. His low AAV wouldn’t clog up payroll and he has multiple years of team control without it being an onerous term. It’s a heck of a lot better than another year of IKF at short.