By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 9 (Yonhap) -- It might have been just a dinner between two baseball players, but the seemingly innocuous occasion has set a major league fan base abuzz.
Toronto Blue Jays' South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin said on Tuesday that he'd recently had dinner with Kim Ha-seong, an All-Star shortstop with the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) who has been posted for major league clubs.
Under the posting system, any interested Major League Baseball (MLB) club has 30 days, in which they can work out a deal with Kim. The negotiating period began at 8 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) on Dec. 2 and will end at 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 1.
The Blue Jays are expected to be an active player in the open market this winter, and they've reportedly been keeping tabs on Kim's progress in the KBO.
The 25-year-old enjoyed his best offensive season in 2020, with a .306/.397/.523 line, plus a career-high 30 home runs, 109 RBIs, 111 runs scored and 23 steals. He drew more walks (75) than he struck out (68). An athletic fielder with a strong arm, Kim can play both shortstop and third base.
Ryu commented on his meal with Kim after a local baseball awards ceremony in Seoul on Tuesday. The ceremony was closed to the media, due to the coronavirus restrictions, but Ryu agreed to an interview with a pool television reporter after the ceremony.
When words of Ryu's dinner with Kim reached Toronto, it fueled speculation that the Blue Jays' interest in Kim may be more than a passing type. Did the Blue Jays ask Ryu to make a pitch on their behalf? Did Ryu try to sell Kim on the benefits of playing for an up-and-coming team with a talented young core?
Well, for one, Ryu said Kim reached out first. And two, we don't know the extent of their conversations over their meal. Maybe Kim was just curious about playing in MLB on general terms, rather than any specifics about playing for the Blue Jays.
"He asked me to treat him to a meal someday and said it'd be great for him to be playing with me," Ryu said according to the pooled footage, though it wasn't clear if Kim meant playing with Ryu on the Blue Jays or just playing in the majors at the same time. "I asked him if he had any team in mind, but it didn't seem as though he had thought about it yet."
Asked about the prospect of having Kim as a teammate, Ryu said, "Personally, I think it'd be really good. Just the thought of playing with another Korean player on the same major league team makes me happy."
Ryu is a well-respected veteran among KBO stars who hope to follow in his footsteps to reach MLB. The 33-year-old left-hander is the first player to jump directly from the KBO to the big leagues via posting.
The posting system has changed since Ryu's days. Back then, MLB teams submitted bids for a player of their interest in a silent auction, and the highest bidder had the exclusive rights to negotiate with the player. In late 2012, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the bidding for Ryu with $25.73 million, and after Ryu signed his six-year, $36 million deal, that bidding money went to Ryu's KBO club, the Hanwha Eagles, as the posting fee.
The auction is no longer a part of the posting process. And the posting fee will depend on the amount of guaranteed value of the player's contract. The bigger the deal, the more money the player's original team receives.
The current system allows players to choose their own destination if there are multiple suitors.
"I got the sense that (Kim) was really motivated and driven," Ryu said. "Players can pick the team now. I hope he gets a good offer."
Ryu offered his brief scouting report on the talented infielder.
"He's a complete package; he can hit, he can field, and he can run," Ryu said. "I think he has enough power to be a competitive player in the majors."
In speaking to Toronto media Tuesday (local time), Blue Jays' assistant general manager Joe Sheehan said Kim is "in that infield mix" this offseason.
"The performance in the KBO has been quite strong," Sheehan said. "And just looking at players that have come over, he fits into that infield market really well."
As for Ryu's meeting with Kim, Sheehan offered: "Ryu's really good. And I think him being a big player in KBO's history is really good.
"It's like anything else; if you're going to work somewhere and you talk to somebody that works in that office, and you know them somehow, that's going to be a potential help as far as you making your decision," Sheehan added. "And I think it's a well-received thing because, hey, there's nothing to hide. This is what you're signing up for. If you like these conversations, it's good. If you don't, it's probably not going to be a great fit."
For what it's worth, Ryu said he will probably meet another posted KBO star, Na Sung-bum, in the coming days before Na heads out to the United States. Na, represented by uber-agent Scott Boras, also enjoyed a fine offensive season, batting .324/.390/.596 with a career-best 34 home runs, 112 RBIs and 115 runs scored.
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