Friday, December 4, 2015

Chih-Sheng Lin to the Padres?

Lamigo Monkeys Official Website
According to multiple reliable Taiwanese media outlets, (here and here, both are in Chinese) the San Diego Padres have checked in on Taiwanese free agent slugger, face of the franchise, media sensation, and 2015 CPBL MVP Chih-Sheng Lin. Lin, soon to be 34 years old, is an infielder who has been a top 5 player in the CPBL (the highest-level of pro ball in Taiwan, comparable to A+. AA leagues in the US) for the last 12 years. He can play all four infield positions, and is still a physical monster at his age. Coming off an MVP season in the CPBL, Lin is now a free agent due for either a major raise in Taiwan or a contract offer from the MLB, KBO, or NPB.

Lin was the first overall pick in the 2003 Amateur Draft held in December, and he made his CPBL debut the next June as the 4-hitter in the La New Bears lineup. He made an immediate impact, hitting .318/.380/.527 with 11 home runs in just 57 games for the startup team, becoming their face of the franchise along with former top Dodgers prospect Chin-Feng Chen. Over the course of 12 years in the league, he has collected Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, and many Best 10 Awards (given to the best player at each position), as well as multiple HR titles and an MVP. This season, the CPBL saw an offensive boom, and save for a few, all hitters had career years and all pitchers had career worsts. Numbers from this season should be taken with a grain of salt, but Lin took full advantage of it, slashing .380/.469/.689 with 31 home runs and 30 stolen bases en route to MVP honors and a batting title as well as MVP of the Taiwan Series, which I covered here. The biggest takeaway from this season is that he showed that, at 33 years old, he still had plenty of athleticism left in him, swiping 30 bags. Looking at prior seasons, where the CPBL was a more neutral hitting/pitching environment, he has been a consistent performer over the course of his career. Lin's batting average has dipped below .310 just 3 times, with a career low of .279 in 2014 before bouncing back in a big way. He is one of the biggest power bats the island of Taiwan has ever produced, batting in the heart of the order in all of Chinese Taipei's international tournaments like the Olympics, World Baseball Classic, and 2015's Premier12, where Lin was one of the best players in the entire tournament, batting .347/.375/.913 with 4 HRs in 4 straight games, including this tie-breaker against the mighty Cubans, an absolute bomb off a 74-mph breaking ball.

Lin, of course, is not without his faults. His career 9% walk rate in the CPBL isn't bad, but likely does not bode well for his plate discipline numbers in the MLB. He has an aggressive approach and is susceptible to breaking balls and off speed, and while it has not been exposed in the CPBL (career 18% K-rate), against more advanced pitching in the Premier12 tournament, there were hints of strikeout issues. He struck out 6 times in 23 plate appearances, all coming against top teams such as Canada, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, including once against big-leaguer Andrew Albers. His swing, which lowers his hands before taking a bit of an uppercut through the zone, may lead to trouble against high fastballs with better velocity at the big league level. His natural defensive position is shortstop, and while he was a top defender back in his prime, he has lost a step with age and is probably best suited for an infield corner. He definitely has the arm to handle third and could probably play second as well and shortstop in a pinch, making him a versatile piece that could appeal to National League teams such as the Padres.

In Taiwan, Lin is more than just a baseball player. On the baseball-crazed island, fans treat their superstars like idols (airports go crazy when Wei-Yin Chen returns for the winter). Lin, who has a big personality and a high-energy guy both on and off the field is a media sensation, a true celebrity that is all over TV shows and magazines, with dance moves like these. A transition stateside will surely be closely followed by Taiwanese media and come with lots of hype, being the first CPBL position player to make the switch (Fu-Te Ni made it as a Tigers LOOGY before succumbing to Tommy John surgery). He has drawn interest from MLB before: as an amateur by the Seattle Mariners, who cited his athleticism and power up the middle, and the Cleveland Indians, who supposedly gave him a private workout in early 2010. Rumor also has it that the A's once considered him a possibility up the middle around that time as well. This offseason, as a true free agent and requiring no posting fee, he has drawn interest from the Padres and another mystery team who have checked in and confirmed Lin's free agency status with the CPBL, which shows that they at least have some interest in his abilities. The Padres currently stand to have some combination of Cory SpangenbergJedd GyorkoYangervis Solarte, and Jose Pirela handle infield duties, and while all of them are solid players in their own right, none of them scream "big offensive threat" or, with Gyorko as the exception, profile as 20+ HR bats. The Padres have been agressive in the Asian market, being the winning bidder for Korean pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim and pursuing Japanese third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda, who profiles similarly to Lin, this winter. While Lin, at 34 years old, is likely not the highest-upside solution to their problem, but he will probably provide some pop and versatility defensively at a reasonable price. At his age, he probably won't command much more than a 1 or 2 year deal worth somewhere around 2 million annually. It might even be smaller, depending on what teams are interested and if the KBO or NPB teams have legitimate interest as well. Expect Lin to hit around .230/.295/.390, and while that doesn't seem stunning right off the bat, it is right around what Ian Desmond and Wilmer Flores hit last year and certainly acceptable as a platoon option for someone like Spangenberg. At 34, Lin may be a bit past his prime, but with his high-energy game and ability to hit some homers and swipe a few bases, he should be an appealing piece to an infield-needy team like San Diego.

Here is a bonus video of Lin homering in Game 7 of the Taiwan Series, giving Lamigo a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first.

No comments:

Post a Comment