With checkered past looming large, LG Twins hoping for better production from foreign bat

SEOUL– By signing former major league outfielder Austin Dean on Thursday, the LG Twins became the last team in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) to acquire a foreign hitter for 2023.

The delay hadn’t been for lack of trying.

The Twins were among the first teams to fill that spot. On Dec. 6, they announced the signing of new outfielder Abraham Almonte to a one-year, US$800,000 deal. But four days later, the deal was voided, as Almonte failed to pass the physical.
And for the second straight offseason, the Twins became the last team to fill the foreign position player spot for the new season.

Last winter, the Twins announced their acquisition of Rio Ruiz on Dec. 28. Their Seoul rivals, Doosan Bears, announced the return of Jose Miguel Fernandez in January, but the deal had long been in place and the club only had to wait until the Cuban player had a passport issue sorted out.

Considering the Twins’ recent history with foreign hitters, it’s easy to understand why they would be so careful about their next move.

Over the past decade or so, the Twins have only had three foreign position players who could be deemed productive: Roberto Petagine from 2008 to 2009, Luis Jimenez for parts of three seasons from 2015 to 2017, and Roberto Ramos from 2020 to 2021.

Everyone else in between has ranged from mild disappointments to unmitigated disasters.

After Jimenez, the Twins went through eight foreign hitters from 2018 to 2022. Some, such as James Loney and Justin Bour, brought impressive major league credentials but didn’t pan out.

Loney infamously refused an assignment to the minor league and walked out on the Twins in the middle of the 2017 season. In 23 games for the Twins, Loney, an 11-year big league veteran, batted .278 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.

Bour, who had three 20-homer campaigns in the majors before arriving in the KBO, batted only .170 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 32 games last year, after replacing Ramos in midseason. Bour spent most of his time in the minors.

The Twins played the 2021 postseason without a foreign bat in the lineup, a highly unusual move for any club hoping to win a title. And they were forced to do that again in 2022.

They began the 2022 regular season with Rio Ruiz in the mix but they cut him in May, after the former big leaguer batted only .155 with a home run and six RBIs in 27 games.

Ruiz’s replacement, Robel Garcia, suffered an embarrassing fate of getting cut in October, just before the start of the postseason. Garcia batted .206 with four homers and 19 RBIs in 39 games, but struggled in the minors as the Twins’ patience ran out.

The Twins had hoped Almonte, with 455 major league games to his credit, would be different, handing him an US$800,000 contract. But he never even played a game for the Twins, and he only got to put on the team’s jersey for the press release announcing his signing.

The Twins will now be scrambling to find a new bat with many decent options having already been snatched up by other teams. Finding a productive hitter from overseas is even more important for the Twins for 2023, as they have lost outfielder Chae Eun-seong, one of their top run producers over the past five years, signed with the Eagles as a free agent.

From 2018 to 2022, Chae ranked second on the Twins in batting average, hits, home runs, RBIs, and on-base plus slugging (OPS). Chae averaged 16 home runs and 89 RBIs with an .829 OPS over this span, and the Twins would be ecstatic if Dean can match those numbers in his first KBO season.

Dean has 11 homers and 24 RBIs in 126 career big league games, with a .228 batting average and a .676 OPS. In Triple-A, the 29-year-old had an .883 OPS with 45 homers and 174 RBIs in 289 games.

The Twins said they liked Dean’s combination of power and contact ability, and also his defensive versatility as someone who can play in the outfield and at first base.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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