clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Giants sign Korean star Jae-gyun Hwang

The right-handed third baseman is reportedly getting a split deal that will pay him $1.5 million if he makes the team.

2014 Asian Games - Day 9 Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The Giants have added power and infield depth and made spring training a heckuva lot more interesting. According to reports, the team is close to signing Korean star Jae-gyun Hwang, who has experience at shortstop and third base. The deal is expected to be a minor-league contract, with incentives that could be worth more than $1.5 million if he makes the team. (Edit: It seems official in Andrew Baggarly’s report here.)

It’s not a trade for Yasiel Puig or Ryan Braun, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fascinating.

Hwang hit .335/.394/.570 last year for the Lotte Giants, with 26 doubles and 27 homers in 464 at-bats. The .964 OPS was a career high for the right-handed hitter, but it’s worth noting that it came in a league in which the average OPS was .802. The numbers skew a little high in the KBO. For comparison, Brett Pill hit .318/.362/.525 in three seasons in Korea.

However, if we’re talking about a Brett Pill with speed, who could play different positions around the infield, not just first? I’m okay with that, especially considering there’s still a higher ceiling than that. Hwang’s breakout year wasn’t just fueled with a high BABIP and unsustainable luck; he cut his strikeout rate nearly in half, while maintaining his power numbers and hitting .330.

Even better are the reported terms of the deal, which allow for the Giants to get a very, very good look at him in spring training. If he proves quickly that he can handle major league pitching, he’ll make the team (costing them roughly $3 million, once the salary-cap tax is factored in). If he scuffles in Arizona, the Giants won’t be out any serious money, and they’ll even have the option to stash him in Sacramento.

There’s also the chance that they’re very high on Hwang and internally committed to him making the roster, which could hint that another move is possible. Would this be a pure bench move, allowing Hwang to spot start and pinch-hit, leaving a backup battle between Ehire Adrianza, Jimmy Rollins, and Kelby Tomlinson for the backup shortstop gig? Or is this a signing that’s being made with another deal in mind, possibly one that shakes up the infield depth to improve the Giants’ starting outfield?

My guess is that the deal was just too favorable to pass on, and that Hwang will be the one who decides what the Giants do. If he hits and hits a bunch, maybe Eduardo Nuñez becomes the super-sub he was for the Twins, and they’ll both help Joe Panik avoid the same kinds of struggles against left-handers he went through last year. If he looks overmatched, we’ll remember him as fondly as we remember Brad Eldred’s spring training with the Giants in 2011. Which is to say, we won’t remember it at all.

When we looked at Hwang last time, we included a GIF of him sliding face-first like Buster Posey. This was necessary, but it also buried the lede. This is also Jae-gyun Hwang:

And this is Jae-gyun Hwang:

And this:

While there is zero chance of him showing that bat flip off in the majors — Madison Bumgarner would probably tackle him before he rounded third base — that doesn’t mean that he still can’t have home run style without a bat flip.

No flip, plenty of style. That just might fly in the majors.

So might Hwang’s power, too. What was already an interesting battle for the Giants’ bench has become absolutely compelling. Because if this works out, the Giants will have navigated the treacherous swamps of offseason trades and mega-deals quite remarkably. There’s a lot of reward that could come with a deal like this. There’s very little risk. You don’t get to write that after every offseason deal, so embrace this one while it lasts, and let’s root for some sweet, sweet dingers.