Third base has been a hodgepodge of utility players for the Brewers ever since Aramis Ramirez was traded away and finished his career in 2015. Jonathan Villar and Hernan Perez did a fine job holding down the position in the second half of 2016, but their talents could be maximized if the Brewers were to find a full-time solution at the hot corner.
Justin Turner represents an high-priced option in this year's free agent market, and Luis Valbuena is a popular pick for the Brewers among the prognosticators. But there may be another quality option that many people may be overlooking.
That would be Jae-gyun Hwang.
Hey, if the Brewers already signed one Korean League masher, they may as well sign another, right?
While Hwang has not been on Eric Thames' level in terms of power, he is coming off a career-best season at age 28, hitting .335/.394/.570 with 27 home runs, 113 RBI and 25 stolen bases in 127 games for the Lotte Giants. As we know with the Thames signing, those are nice numbers, but he's also working in the peak of his career against talent that would generously be considered Triple-A level.
With that said, his bat flip game is definitely at an MLB level. Carlos Gomez would be proud.
Hwang is a 10-year veteran of the KBO, breaking in at the age of 19 and compiling a career line of .285/.349/.433 with 114 home runs. That's a bit misleading, though, since he's seen a power surge as of late, hitting 52 of those home runs in the past two seasons while also increasing his walk rate.
In terms of defense, Hwang seems to have an okay reputation, and he's definitely shown flashes of a very good arm. You can check out some of the difficult throws he's capable of making here, which features some clips of his work on the Korean national team.
Hwang held a workout in front of scouts on American soil last week, and about 20 teams were said to be represented, but details have been slim as to which 20 teams were there. The Dodgers are said to possibly be interested, as they do their due diligence in the event they can't retain Turner.
Hwang also hasn't told Korean media whether he's committing to a move to the United States, but he is planning to stay stateside until early December -- likely to see if he can come away with a deal in America before returning to Korea as an unrestricted free agent there. Hwang was actually posted as a free agent by the Lotte Giants following the 2015 season, but not a single team bid on him. He's now free to sign anywhere in the world he chooses.
As some have touched on with the Thames signing, the history of KBO stars coming over to the U.S. is still short and fairly spotty.
Byung Ho Park debuted for the Minnesota Twins last season after hitting 53 home runs in the KBO in 2015, but struggled to hit .191/.275/.409 with 12 home runs in 62 games on American soil.
Jung Ho Kang has fared better for the Pittsburgh Pirates, hitting .273/.355/.483 in two seasons so far, and hitting 21 home runs in only 103 games for the Pirates this year. He's probably the best case scenario for Hwang, but was also much more impressive in his final KBO season (Kang hit .356/.459/.739(!!) with 40 home runs and 36 doubles in 2014) and was younger when he made the transition to American ball.
Whether or not Hwang would be able to match Kang's production, he might still represent another interesting buy-low, low-risk opportunity for the Brewers. Park only cost the Twins $2.75 million for all of his struggles last season, and is under contract for three more years with a peak salary of $3 million. Kang made $2.5 million in each of his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, and also won't see a salary north of $3 million unless the Pirates pick up his $5.5 million option in 2019.
Using those as a baseline (and assuming Thames got a boost for natural progression of salaries and having history in the U.S.), the Brewers might be able to get Hwang to man third base for $3 million or so per year. For that price, they'd basically be trading one Chris Carter for two Korean league All-Stars, and if neither work out, it's not much of an issue considering the rebuilding efforts are ongoing.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference