A “conundrum,” Pete Mackanin called him.
Not because Hyun Soo Kim carries an air of mystery about him, that we know of, but because at the time of his acquisition, the Phillies outfield was comprised of young talent that both the team and the fans were trying to see more of. Finally, it wasn’t just a rebuild - it was building, and the block were in place; everybody was gushing over Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, and even Odubel Herrera, when he wasn’t violating their personal code of ethics. Rhys Hoskins was getting outfield time with Tommy Joseph at first base. Michael Saunders was gone, Howie Kendrick was gone, and Daniel Nava was hurt. Kim, a 29-year-old throw-in Matt Klentak accrued as part of the Jeremy Hellickson trade with the Orioles, didn’t fit the narrative that it was time for the young guys to shine.
He did, however, bring a theme song. Did you bring a theme song, Rhys Hoskins?
I had seen Kim play in 2016 at Citizens Bank Park, when Baltimore had stopped through for an exhibition game just before the season. He grounded out and somebody in the outfield seats screamed, “ACCEPT YOUR DEMOTION, YOU BUM!!” It could have been a Phillies fan. It could have been a boss hosting the worst employee outing of all time. But in all likelihood, it was an Orioles fan, as Kim was in the middle of refusing to accept a minor league demotion from his team, thanks to a stipulation in his contract allowing him to do so, after hitting .178 in 45 AB over spring training. Fans were getting concerned that there would be a .402 OPS taking up a roster spot all season, but Kim turned things around, finishing with the highest BA on the team (.302) among players with at least 300 AB on the year.
Like many players who appeared and disappeared from this roster throughout the season, Kim’s presence, in retrospect, had far more to do with the implications that followed him. Instead of coming up with a reason to play him, Mackanin admitted it would be difficult to find a place for him, and the Phillies were explicit in mentioning that he would not cut into the playing time of Altherr, Herrera, or Williams.
The age of space-filling veteran throw-in’s was coming to an end in Philadelphia. Klentak’s trade of Hellickson had been authored with a young prospect, Garrett Cleavinger, and international bonus money involved, both of which offered more intriguing futures than Kim’s. Mackanin snuck him into 40 games, through which he had 20 hits, five XBH, and zero home runs.
Following the season, Kim returned to South Korea, calling his season “disappointing,” and expressing a desire to continue playing Major League Baseball, but understanding that it wasn’t really his decision after a season of consistent .231/.307/.292 slashing. Sadly, if his MLB career were to end, it would be with negative WAR (-0.7). These figures don’t do much to indicate the monstrous career Kim had while playing for the KBO’s Doosan Bears for almost a decade, a performance that earned him both his nickname (“The Hitting Machine”) and his music video that, if you didn’t watch it yet, I urge you not to, for its infectious melodies will live in your brain forever.
Maybe another shot with another team in another state of development will give him a chance; a team not looking for space in its outfield for its future core. Orioles writer Dan Connolly was surprised when Kim said he desired to return to the U.S. in 2018, assuming he’d resume his place as “KBO’s Tony Gwynn.” It seems, however, Kim would rather try to succeed where he is struggling and build a consistent, successful MLB career.
Best of luck to him. And best of luck to us all, as we struggle to sleep and live with the haunting melodies of his theme song echoing in our subconscious for eternity.