After struggling all spring to adjust to major-league pitching, Hyun Soo Kim refused to accept a demotion to the minor leagues. Such was his right, as outlined in his two-year, $7 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles. When the O’s signed the Korean outfielder, the intention was to pencil him in as the team’s starting left fielder. Kim never got untracked in Spring Training, batting only .178 and making very little hard contact. His outfield defense also looked questionable.
Now, 14 games into the 2016 season, Kim has played a grand total of three times. The 28-year-old has started twice and pinch-hit in another game. He does have three hits in six at-bats, but is still not hitting the ball hard. Two of his hits did not leave the infield. With Mark Trumbo raking in right field and Joey Rickard carrying his strong spring into the regular season, there is very little reason for Kim to get the at-bats he needs. To top it off, Nolan Reimold has been hitting very well when Trumbo slides to DH. Should Rickard falter, at-bats will likely be given to Reimold.
As the Orioles face the return of Kevin Gausman and Brian Matusz from the disabled list (Jimmy Paredes is also close to returning, but does not have a clear role with the team), the Orioles are going to have to make some difficult roster moves. The bullpen is not as flexible as in years past. Tyler Wilson, T.J. McFarland, and Mychal Givens can be optioned to the minor leagues. Losing any of those three may not be palatable to the Orioles. Wilson has been very effective in long relief — an important role on a team with an iffy-at-best starting rotation. Givens has recorded 14 of his 23 outs via the strikeout and has been plagued by a ridiculously high BAbip of .563. McFarland gives the Orioles a second lefty arm, though it may be of questionable value given his performance the past two years.
Mike Wright, currently pitching in the starting rotation, can also be optioned. The Orioles seem committed to the idea of Wright as a starting pitcher despite the fact that he has little command of his secondary pitches. There have been flashes of dominance from Wright, and he battled through a quality start against the Toronto Blue Jays this week. Vance Worley cannot be optioned, but seems like the odd man out when Gausman returns to the rotation. Worley also has value as an innings-eater out of the ‘pen or as a spot starter. It’s unlikely the team would be able to sneak him through waivers.
The Orioles do not necessarily need two left-handers in their bullpen. Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton are more than capable of getting hitters out from both sides of the plate. McFarland seems most likely to be sent down to clear room for Matusz. Wilson could follow when Gausman returns, but he has more than proven his worth to the team. It is worth mentioning that Dylan Bundy has now pitched in consecutive days, showing that Buck Showalter does have more latitude to use him for something more than an infrequent long-relief role. If Bundy can emerge as a more legitimate middle-relief weapon, optioning Wilson is easier to stomach.
Optioning McFarland and Wilson to make room for two more pitchers on the roster is the conventional route for the Orioles, but it does not have to be the only option. This is a team that would benefit more from an eight-man bullpen than an extra outfielder with little-to-no defensive value. With starters struggling to go more than six innings (and often going only five), the bullpen is getting called upon at an unsustainable pace. Tyler Wilson’s ability to pitch two or three innings at a time is far more valuable than anything Hyun Soo Kim can provide off the bench. This may be the time for the Orioles to swallow their pride and eat the money on Kim’s contract.
It’s one thing to keep a player like Kim around if he is being given regular at-bats and an actual chance to prove himself. Unfortunately, that is just not the case in Baltimore. Rickard has posted back-to-back three-hit games and is not going away. Trumbo has been serviceable defensively in right field. Kim is not going to be used as a defensive replacement or a pinch-hitter in a high-leverage situation. With a roster crunch coming, and other players already having proved their value this season, the time has come to move on from Hyun Soo Kim for good. He has not been able to justify his roster spot, just as Delmon Young, Travis Snider, and Alejandro De Aza could not last year.
The Orioles cannot afford to waste a roster spot for an entire year, and must capitalize on this hot start. The Orioles will not make any friends in Korea by releasing Kim, but the move needs to be made. The move could come this month; it could come next month, but it’s hard to envision Hyun Soo Kim finishing the year as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.