No Twin has ever hit 50 home runs in a season. Byung Ho Park has done it in each of the past two years. No wonder Minnesota was eager to sign the South Korean slugger.
Park will get a chance to show how well power hitting across the Pacific translates to Major League Baseball, after agreeing Tuesday to a four-year contract worth $12 million, the Twins announced. A two-time MVP in the Korea Baseball Organization, Park is expected to take over as the Twins’ designated hitter next season.
Park is guaranteed $12 million over the next four seasons, but the contract could be worth as much as $18 million. His salary will be $2.75 million in each of the next two seasons, then $3 million in 2018 and 2019. The Twins hold an option for 2020 worth $6.5 million, which can be bought out for $500,000.
That’s only $1 million in total salary more than the Pirates paid Jung Ho Kang, Park’s former teammate with the Nexen Heroes, when he signed a four-year contract last winter. Kang hit 15 home runs, batted .287 and finished third in NL Rookie of the Year balloting.
In addition to Park’s salary, the Twins will pay a posting fee of $12.8 million to Nexen, Park’s KBO team for the past five seasons, for the rights to sign their star player. With the posting fee, the Twins’ total investment in Park is $24.8 million, or $6.2 million per year.
The Twins, who outbid several other MLB teams for Park’s rights, had until Dec. 8 to reach an agreement. But negotiations moved swiftly, and Park flew to Minneapolis on Sunday to finalize the deal, with agent Alan Nero of Octagon Baseball joining him here Monday. An introductory press conference is scheduled for Wednesday at Target Field.
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Park, 29, was a first baseman for Nexen and the Korean national team, but that position is filled by Joe Mauer with the Twins. So he is projected to displace Miguel Sano as the team’s designated hitter, with Sano tentatively set to move to right field next season. Park said earlier this week that he has “no problem with being the DH” for the Twins. “Obviously, I prefer to take the field, but I also have to make adjustments in a new environment,” he said.
The Twins hope that adjustment won’t take long, and they are heartened by the Kang’s example. Like Kang, Park is coming off a terrific season in the KBO — Park batted .343 with 146 RBIs for Nexen last season, and he has driven in at least 100 runs with at least 30 home runs in each of his past four seasons, earning the MVP trophy in both 2012 and 2013.
It’s his power that most appeals to the Twins, who were 10th in the American League with 156 home runs last year, and who haven’t ranked in the upper half of the AL since 2004.
Park wore No. 52 for Nexen, and is expected to retain the number with Minnesota. Brian Duensing wore No. 52 for the past seven seasons, but the reliever is a free agent and is not expected to return in 2016.
The 29-year-old Park represents the Twins’ second free-agent acquisition via the posting system used for players under contract in Japan and South Korean. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, an infielder from the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, signed with the Twins in December 2010, but was a bust in the U.S., batting only .215 in 71 career games before returning to Japan.