It's easy to see why the Twins wanted Byung-ho Park. The 29 year old first baseman has light tower power and has upside impossible to buy for this price on the open market in the United States. So, even though he won't hit .343 with 53 homers, the Twins are likely to be happy to add his bat to their lineup.
Up until now, the Twins have been primarily stocking young talent from wherever they could find it. The goal was simply to develop enough guys to put a decent team on the field. Now that they've done that, the next step is to pick and choose between them. Doing that will tell us a lot more about what the current Twins leadership values, and how they see themselves as a team. It will help us understand who the Twins want to be when they grow up.
So, if they do sign the Korean slugger, the most pertinent question is who he replaces in the lineup and on the roster. And what does that decision say about how the Twins see themselves going forward. There are several options:
Option 1: Trade Trevor Plouffe.
This is the most likely scenario. Plouffe probably has the most value of any of the guys the Twins would shuffle around, and the Angels are already said to be interested. Trading Plouffe would open up third base for Miguel Sano to man in the near term, Park or Mauer would then slide into the DH position vacated by the budding superstar.
What does this tell us? First, it tells us that the Twins value upside. Trevor Plouffe is a good player, worth somewhere between two and three wins a year above replacement, but has essentially maxed out his talent as a third baseman with an average bat and a slightly above average glove. Sano and Park represent a potentially huge offensive upgrade, but Sano's defense is going to hurt the Twins' infield.
Option 2: Trade Aaron Hicks.
In this scenario, Sano would move to left field or right field to take over, and Rosario would shift to center field if Byron Buxton isn't ready, and right field if he is.
What does this tell us? The Twins still don't trust Hicks, who hit .259/.333/.432 over the second half of the year. Or, at least they don't trust him enough to be able to hold down the offensive obligations of playing an outfield corner once Buxton is deemed ready. He will be 26, so it's not like he has a lot of room to grow left. The club also has confidence that Eddie Rosario is going to get better and in his upside. We have no idea what Sano's defense is going to look like in the outfield, but he is supposedly working on this in winter ball. Regardless, you have to figure that, in either this or the next option, the Twins would definitely be signaling their willingness to sacrifice outfield defense.
Option 3: Trade Eddie Rosario.
In this scenario, Sano would move to left field. Hicks would stay in center or move to right to accommodate Buxton.
What does this tell us? The Twins don't have any confidence in Eddie Rosario's potential to grow offensively. With just 15 walks and 118 strikeouts in 474 plate appearances, there's definitely a risk that Rosario will never develop the plate discipline to be a quality major league hitter. It would be a sign that they prefer the more stable skill set offered by Hicks to the more contact and development-oriented one of Rosario's. It also might be a sign that the club views Max Kepler as a better long-term bet.
Option 4: Turn Joe Mauer into a super sub.
This will not happen, but in this scenario, the Twins keep Plouffe, and Mauer rotates between first base, DH, and probably the corner outfield in a role that would get him somewhere around 400 plate appearances, primarily against right-handed pitching.
What would this mean? Again, this isn't going to happen, but it would mean the Twins have given up on Mauer's ability to contribute in a meaningful way to the club for the rest of his contract. He would become the most expensive bench bat in baseball, a fate that his production probably warrants, but that isn't realistic.
In the past, the Twins have valued veteran stability over youthful upside in the field and on the mound. It has been a strategy that has cost them games, and potentially valuable players opportunities to develop. My hope, as this franchise tries to build for a competitive future, is that they won't compromise that upside in the name of immediate mediocrity. That they won't decide what they have is good enough, and stop trying to upgrade. And how they respond when they eventually do ink Park is going to reveal whether the Twins were right to leave their fate back in the hands of Terry Ryan as they put all their pieces into place.