In the storied history of the New York Yankees, there have only ever been two players from South Korea, and neither of them came from the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). Chan Ho Park, who played one season in New York (2010) didn't play in the KBO until after his MLB career came to an end, and Rob Refsnyder was adopted by an American family when he was a baby and grew up in the United States. The Yankees have found players all over the world, but not yet from the up-and-coming league. With KBO superstars Jae-gyun Hwang, Ah-seop Son, and Byung-ho Park likely to be posted this offseason, let's take a look to see if any of them fit the Yankees roster.
If they don't bring back Chris Young, the Yankees are going to need another outfielder off the bench, so let's start with Son. The 28-year-old outfielder has played his entire KBO career for the Lotte Giants. On the one hand, it's alarming to see Son's batting line drop by at least 45 point in batting average, OBP, and slugging between 2014 and 2015, but when you consider his "down year" to be .317/.406/.472 with 13 home runs and 54 RBI, it's hard not to see how good he's been over the last six years. Of course the caveat is that the KBO is a very hitter-friendly league and the general talent level is believed to be closer to Triple-A than MLB.
Unfortunately, since he bats left-handed and doesn't profile as a legitimate power hitter, he likely doesn't have a place on the 2016 Yankees. He might have good contact skills and a solid eye and the plate, but he doesn't really fill a need for the team. I do see a spot for a left-handed outfielder with speed on the roster, but I can name five or six guys off the top of my head who fill the same role, and are already in the organization. The Yankees will potentially be looking for a right-handed power hitter off the bench in the outfield, infield or both (depending on what happens with Young or Brendan Ryan), and Son doesn't fit the bill. He actually might not be posted at all anyway, but we'll cover that in the next section.
Hwang, a third baseman who will be 28 in March, has also spent his entire KBO career on the Lotte Giants. Unlike his teammate, Hwang is coming off of a career-year, and primed to potentially draw some decent interest as he attempts to make a jump to the majors. Hwang hit .290/.350/.521 this season and his 26 homers were more than double what he'd previously ever put up over a full year. All that practice with the long ball also gave him plenty of time to practice his epic bat flips, as you can see from the video above. Seriously, Jose Bautista ain't got nothin' on Jae-gyun. How does a guy suddenly go from a 12 homer guy to a 26 homer guy over one season? Hwang attributes the new-found power to a muscle building training regime he picked up last offseason. Scouts also paint Hwang as a good defender with solid range and a strong arm, who should profile as a good third baseman–at least defensively–at the major league level. The bat could be another story, unless he plans on adding even more muscle before being posted.
One caveat to this potential signing is that Hwang might not be posted at all. KBO states that teams can only post one player per offseason. This means that only one of Hwang and Son can go to the majors this year. The only way they could both be posted is if one of them gets posted and doesn't end up signing. Only then could the Giants decide to post the other. From a logical standpoint, it would make sense for them to post Hwang this year and Son next year, because Hwang will have the ability to leave as a free agent after the 2016 season anyway. They might as well get something back for him now.
All that being said, is Hwang even a fit for the roster? At face value, the answer is no. Chase Headley is at third base, so, unless the Yankees decide to trade him just one year after committing to him for four years, Hwang won't be coming over. Could the Yankees move Headley and the three years and $39 million left on his deal? Probably, but it won't be easy, and I'm not sure it will be worth the effort if the goal is just to bring in a guy like Hwang. If they were bringing in Josh Donaldson or even Mike Moustakas, that would be a different story. I doesn't seem like he'd be versatile enough to be a bench piece, so I don't think we'll be seeing him in Pinstripes.
Park is by far the least likely to be in Pinstripes next season. The Nexen Hereoes slugger is the bat most likely to convert at the major league level compared to the other two. Over the past two seasons, he has slashed .324/.434/.701 with 105 home runs and 270 RBI. Sure, Eric Thames and Yamaico Navarro hit 47 and 48 home runs in that league, but but the Pirates' Jung Ho Kang showed decent power at the MLB level after socking 40 dingers in the KBO last year, so I think Park could approach 20 or 25 if he's given playing time next season. He also turns 29 in April, so he's definitely for a win-now organization.
All that being said, Park is a first baseman, which pretty much takes him out of the running for a contract with the Yankees. Mark Teixeira is entrenched there for one more year and Greg Bird looks poised and ready to take the role into the next decade. The Yankees also have Alex Rodriguez filling up the DH spot, with plenty of veterans and even a couple of kids like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez who could step in too. He's just not the type of guy that the Yankees need right now.
Realistically, I don't expect any of these three players to end up on the Yankees roster for next season. If I had to bet, Park will be the one to make the move to MLB. Of the other two, I think Hwang is the one more likely to be posted because of his status as a potential free agent next year. I also don't see a lot of teams jumping to pay money for Son. I'll be interested to see how it shakes out, because as more players come over from the KBO–and more of them show they can play the this level–the Yankees could target someone fairly soon. Just not this year.