It just wouldn't be the Orioles if there wasn't one more weird twist to come before the regular season gets underway. On Thursday afternoon, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal threw another log on the strange fire of the O's offseason with a report that Hyun Soo Kim is resisting a minor league demotion.
Thursday night, or Friday morning in Korea, Kim's agency confirmed that Kim will not accept any demotion. This was in the contract: If they wanted to send him down, he would have to agree. Now, the O's will either have to keep Kim on the roster despite his spring training struggles, hoping he'll figure it out in time, or just release him and pay him the $7 million that he is contracted to make over the next two years.
What makes this such a surprise reversal is that two days ago it was Rosenthal who reported that Kim was believed to be willing to accept a demotion. Of course, it's always possible that Kim changed his mind between now and then, but it's also possible that whoever Rosenthal talked to a couple of days ago had no idea what he or she was talking about.
Orioles beat writer Rich Dubroff for CSN Baltimore added:
Buck Showalter met a third time with Hyun Soo Kim today and there were no signs that situation was closer to solution. #Orioles— Rich Dubroff (@RichDubroffCSN) March 31, 2016
Which kind of makes it sound like whoever talked to Rosenthal a couple of days ago had no idea what he or she was talking about. Maybe it was the same person who was certain that the Orioles had reached an agreement with Dexter Fowler.
It's not really hard to understand Kim's perspective here. He didn't come over to the United States to slum in Norfolk when he's been a professional for ten seasons in Korea. Major leagues or bust.
Unfortunately, it's been such a bad spring for him, with no signs of hope, that it's really put the O's in a bind as far as what to do. They would surely prefer not to just eat the $7 million. But they would also prefer not to have a guy on the roster who maybe needs more playing time to adjust to the level of competition, only when they have pretensions about competing they can't really have that guy working it out in the starting lineup.
MASN's Roch Kubatko wrote that the O's "want Kim to understand they aren't having buyer's remorse." Another topic that may have come up in the most recent meeting is that the Orioles are always making roster changes and that they will not use only 25 players over the course of the season. It seems that so far this hasn't proved to be convincing.
About the whole situation, O's GM-type Dan Duquette told O's reporters:
The Orioles are happy Kim is on board, but we feel the player needs more at-bats to prepare for the season, which unfortunately we don't have now in Baltimore and it's the reason the club requested that the player consider an optional assignment. We recognize player rights and are glad to have him in the organization.
We all look forward to his contributions to the club after he's had more time to adjust to his new surroundings. All the club is asking him to do is take more time. We're glad to have him in the organization. The organization is fine with him.
Duquette also noted that in Korea, players have ten weeks to prepare for a season, while MLB spring training lasts for only half of that time.
If the O's decide to keep Kim rather than release him, that probably means he'll squeeze out an existing bench player - maybe Nolan Reimold. Poor Nolan. He never can catch a break.
The best case scenario would be if the O's could come to some kind of understanding with Kim over the minor league demotion. We don't seem to be heading towards that scenario unless something changes over the next couple of days.
The deadline to set the Opening Day roster is Sunday at noon, so the Orioles have between now and then to decide how they want to proceed.
This article has been updated to reflect that it's now official that Kim will refuse the minor league assignment.