The Orioles continuing quest to be the weirdest team in MLB has reached its next leg. Taking its rightful place next to the Yovani Gallardo physical and the whole Dexter Fowler contract situation is the O's treatment this week of Hyun Soo Kim, who, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, is willing to accept a demotion to Triple-A.
That is a significant development because as Rosenthal also adds - which, if you've been paying attention this week, you probably also realized - Kim is not expected to be on the 25-man roster on Opening Day. Over the past week or so, Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter have been dodging questions about what exactly would happen with Kim, whose contract stipulates that he must consent to a demotion.
Rosenthal was the one who kicked off the latest round of questions with his Saturday article musing about whether the O's are looking to send Kim back to South Korea. Although Kim's spring training performance hasn't been great, something about that just didn't seem fair, judging a guy solely on how he does in the small sample of March.
Asked by O's reporters on Sunday about that report, Kim said through his interpreter that he hadn't seen it, and added, "There's much more I have to show, so as far as performance-wise, there's more to go." He has sounded through spring like a guy disappointed with his own struggles but recognizing that he has not shown his best to the O's so far.
It's not even about the merits of Kim compared to Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard, who has had a great spring. That's another argument for another article. There's only so much you can gauge from spring results, but the Orioles could feel, reasonably, that Kim is going to need more time to be MLB ready, if he is going to be MLB ready.
If there are further adjustments that Kim could make with regular playing time in Triple-A, that's surely not what he had in mind when he signed with the O's, but it might be for the best for all involved parties. Regular playing time in Norfolk for a couple of months might be better than sporadic game action in MLB.
And all the while he could be further adjusting to life in the US while with the Tides. It's easy to dismiss that culture transition as a potential factor for his struggles, but it's got to be there at least a little bit.
It was never a sure thing that Kim would make it here. That's why the Orioles were able to sign him for a two year, $7 million contract, a very modest sum. No one really yet knows how the performance of the best Korean players will translate over to MLB.
Jung Ho Kang was a KBO star before having a successful 2015 with the Pirates, so there's one example of a successful transition, but Kang had a different skill set than Kim. Kang's 2014 KBO season saw him post a .356/.459/.739 batting line, and he hit 40 home runs. That translated into a 2015 with Pittsburgh where he batted .287/.355/.461 and hit 15 home runs.
For Kang, that's a successful season, no doubt. Any team would take that batting line at any position. But it's a big come-down from the out-of-this-world KBO numbers, too.
Kim's 2015 KBO batting line: .326/.438/.541. That's still really good, of course. What might a player who can do that be able to do in MLB? A best case scenario might be some league average numbers, and at least so far in spring training, Kim hasn't showed much to make you think he's on the verge of a breakthrough.
Notably, Kim has drawn only one walk, which was supposed to be an important part of his game, and he has not gotten any extra-base hits nor looked particularly like he was only missing out on extra-base hits due to stellar defensive plays. This while facing competition that Baseball Reference deems closer to Double-A level than Triple-A, let alone against major leaguers.
That's not a guy who you can just throw out there to the wolves in the regular season and let him figure it out. That wouldn't be fair to Kim and it wouldn't be great for the O's, who are going to need all the help they can get from their offense from day 1.
If the O's do decide to demote Kim to Norfolk, and Kim consents to the demotion, what does that mean for the previously-decided Christian Walker left field experiment? Kim is also a left fielder by trade, and between Xavier Avery, L.J. Hoes, and Dariel Alvarez, the Tides were already not lacking in outfielders. Maybe Kim and Walker could alternate between left field and designated hitter? They can worry about that when it happens.
For now, the Orioles are trying to make the best they can out of an uncomfortable situation. Here's hoping this is an outcome that manages to do that.