Up to this point, Hyun Soo Kim has had a very strange season-plus with the Orioles. To summarize, the Orioles wanted him! They signed him last year, after all, for two years and $7 million. Then, Kim performed poorly during spring training and Buck Showalter et al. seemed to sour on him. The Orioles reportedly "talked internally about potentially trying to" get out of his contract, and when that didn't happen, they tried to convince him to accept an assignment to Triple-A Norfolk.
That didn't happen, either, so Kim made the opening day roster, was booed by fans, and sat the bench. He barely played in April and early May, but started to play in late May as he kept producing. The Orioles didn't have better options, and he forced their hand. An average defender at best, his skills are with the bat, and he posted an impressive 119 wRC+ with an on-base percentage of .382 that was the best on the team. I've written a couple other posts about Kim detailing his accomplishments. Jon also wrote a post last October that examined Kim's KBO splits and posited that he should get more of a chance in a full-time role.
Let's just get right to it: Why are the Orioles not looking to play Kim more? They do not have very many on-base weapons, and they need to get better in that department. Last year, the Orioles ranked ninth in the American League with a .317 OBP. Against right-handed pitching, who Kim almost exclusively played against, the O's were tied for sixth (322). Kim doesn't get all the credit for that -- it's well-worn territory that the Orioles were much better against right-handed pitching last season -- but his 129 wRC+ vs. right-handers was second on the team only to Mark Trumbo (146). So far this season, the O's are second worst in the AL in OBP; Kim has the 10th most plate appearances on the team.
Showalter views Kim as a platoon bat, period. That sounds fine, even if it disregards the possibility that he could still get on base at an effective enough clip against same-handed throwers. How low is the bar here? Craig Gentry is getting leadoff at-bats!
But, three things. First, Kim isn't in the lineup against every right-handed starter (he is not in the lineup tonight against Steven Wright, who's a knuckleballer, but he still throws that pitch with his right hand). Second, Showalter frequently removes Kim from games around the sixth or seventh inning for defensive purposes, especially when the Orioles have the lead. That occasionally robs Kim of a plate appearance per start. And third, despite working his way to the second spot of the lineup last year and excelling in that role, Kim has been slotted seventh in the batting order so far this year despite his on-base prowess.
Part of the issue why Kim doesn't play more is roster construction. The Orioles re-signed Trumbo, and he's almost always going to receive his at-bats at DH. That is pushing someone like Trey Mancini to be an inexperienced outfielder, and he's trying to learn on the job. It would also help Kim if Showalter trusted him more in the field, but that just doesn't seem to be an option at this point.
It's early in the season. Players get hurt, and things can change quickly. But it does seem clear that Showalter, or Duquette, or some front office members didn't really want Kim around in the first place and won't give him a chance in an expanded role.
What exactly is going on? If the Orioles were planning to use him this way, why didn't they try harder to trade him during the offseason to at least get something in return? Kim is not a star, but he's useful, and this seems like a poor use of resources.