Wondering what’s next for Kim

Let me begin by wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year, in case we don’t talk at midnight. Please drink responsibly and try to avoid the amateurs on the road.

As far as I’m concerned, the ball can drop on 2016 and smash it to pieces. Too many deaths this year. Too many painful reminders that life is precious and can be taken from us in the blink of an eye.

We get it.

The list of pending free agents following the 2017 season includes outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, often forgotten because we tend to obsess over starter Chris Tillman and shortstop J.J. Hardy, the latter having an option in his contract for 2018.

Kim signed a two-year, $7 million contract in December 2015 and wasn’t subject to arbitration eligibility, despite information on his Baseball-Reference.com page. He can be two and done.

The Orioles haven’t considered a contract extension for Kim, who appeared in only 95 games last season as a platoon player in left field. He led them in average (.302) and on-base percentage (.382) and was 6-for-9 with a double, home run and two walks as a pinch-hitter. But they’re still figuring him out.

Hyun-Soo-Kim-orange-swing-sidebar.jpgCan he play left field every day rather than sit against left-handers, who held him hitless in 18 at-bats? He’s better than advertised defensively, but can he improve? And what’s his best spot in the lineup?

Some answers won’t come while the roster remains under construction. Moves are pending that could impact Kim, especially with the Orioles searching for a leadoff hitter and contemplating a right-handed hitting outfielder to platoon in left.

Kim would seem to be a nice fit at or near the top of the lineup due to his patient at-bats and ability to get on base, a rare trait among Orioles who like to tee it high and let it fly. He isn’t a threat to steal bases, swiping one in four attempts, but the Orioles tend to go the unconventional route atop the order.

Bringing in a leadoff hitter would leave the No. 2 spot open for Kim, but maybe not if it’s a left-handed batter. Manager Buck Showalter likes to alternate left and right when he’s able to do it.

Kim was written into two lineups as the leadoff hitter and went 1-for-6 with three walks. However, he was 19-for-63 (.302) when leading off an inning, including six doubles and two home runs.

Showalter put Kim in the second slot in 61 games, and the former KBO star responded by hitting .283/.351/.369.

The Orioles roster was filled with players who dropped off in the second half, and Kim was no exception, though his decline wasn’t as steep. He batted .329/.410/.454 with three home runs in 46 games in the first half and .275/.353/.386 with three home runs in 49 games after the break.

Kim won’t hit .600 again in April because he’s bound to receive more than 15 at-bats. He was buried on the bench after refusing a minor league assignment, a storyline that won’t be repeated next spring.

He’d prefer to not repeat his .235 average in September/October.

Kim emerged as one of the club’s best clutch hitters in 2016. He batted .306/.375/.388 (15-for-49) with one home run and 14 RBIs with runners in scoring position and was 8-for-22 with seven RBIs with RISP and two outs.

Only four Orioles had higher averages with RISP and none of them accumulated as many at-bats. Trey Mancini was 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs, Ryan Flaherty was 11-for-31 with four doubles and 12 RBIs, Michael Bourn was 4-for-12 with a home run and seven RBIs, and Francisco Pena was 3-for-9 with a home run and three RBIs.

The group below Kim included Hardy (.295), Adam Jones (.291), Joey Rickard (.289) and Mark Trumbo (.285). Chris Davis batted .194.

I’ll close today’s blog entry by repeating that Flaherty was 11-for-31 with 12 RBIs with RISP. Does this news surprise anyone?

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