Aside from signing Mark Melancon, the San Francisco Giants have had a relatively quiet offseason. They've inked some players to minor league contracts, namely Josh Johnson and Jimmy Rollins, and that's about it. No major trades or signings other than Melancon.
The Giants are rumored to be looking for infield help -- that's why they signed Rollins to that minor league deal, as well as Ramiro Pena and Orlando Calixte -- and were connected to free agent third baseman Justin Turner earlier in the offseason. Turner re-signed with the rival Dodgers and the Giants have been quiet since. At least until now.
According to a MLB Network report, San Francisco is showing "continued interest" in free agent Korean third baseman Jae Gyun Hwang.
#SFGiants showing continued interest in Korean free-agent infielder Jae-gyun Hwang, source says. @MLB@MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 3, 2017
Hwang is a true free agent this offseason. Last winter the Lotte Giants, Hwang's team in the Korea Baseball Organization, made his available to MLB clubs through the posting system, but no team placed a bid. They won't have to do that this year. Hwang is free to sign with any team in MLB (or KBO, for that matter).
The 29-year-old Hwang has been excellent the last three seasons for Lotte after spending the first few years of his career as a solid but unspectacular player. Here are his numbers the last three years:
Hwang had a career year at exactly the right time in 2016. He's a free agent now and his earning potential is as high as it's ever been. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Hwang is a bat flip extraordinaire. He uncorked the mother of all bat flips in July 2015 (skip to 0:47 if you're impatient):
It's important to note KBO is a very hitter friendly league. The league as a whole hit .290/.364/.438 last season. It was a league full of Buster Poseys, basically. (Posey hit .288/.362/.434 in 2016.) Several players who have spent time in both KBO and MLB have said the biggest difference between the two leagues is velocity. MLB pitchers throw so much harder than their KBO counterparts.
The most impressive thing about Hwang's performance last year was his ability to maintain his power output -- the 26 homers are a career-high -- while cutting his strikeout rate nearly in half. Hwang presumably made some adjustments last year, which allowed him to cut his strikeout rate while maintaining his power. That couldn't have been easy.
Whether Hwang can be a productive big leaguer remains to be seen. Jung Ho Kang and Hyun Soo Kim came over from KBO and have had success in recent years. Byung Ho Park wasn't so lucky. No team was willing to pay a posting fee for Hwang last year, but now that he's a true free agent and put together another excellent season. he may find more clubs open to bringing him aboard.
Now, as for the Giants, they appear to be set all around the infield, even after trading Matt Duffy last summer. Brandon Belt is locked in at first base, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford are the middle infield tandem, and Eduardo Nunez is poised to take over at third base full-time. Both Nunez and Hwang are right-handed hitters, so they wouldn't make sense as platoon partners.
Clearly the Giants have prioritized infield depth this offseason, hence the various signings (Rollins, Pena, Calixte, etc.), which makes you wonder if the team has concerns about one of their regulars. Panik had back problems in 2015 and a concussion in 2016, and wasn't quite himself last year. Nunez's track record as an above-average hitter is fairly limited.
Chances are San Francisco is just looking to bolster their depth and cover all their bases, no pun intended, and they're doing their due diligence with Hwang. The free agent infield market is very thin right now. Luis Valbuena is the best available infielder and he's coming off hamstring surgery. Hwang may the best value buy available right now.