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[SPORTS VIEW]Free agent rule keeps players chained to clubs

Jan 17,2007
There is a regulation in Korean baseball that should not exist.
If a free agent fails to sign with a team by Jan. 15, he is banned from playing in the league for the entire season.
What’s the big deal, you ask?
Here’s the catch. Whichever team signs a free agent must pay the player’s original team either three times his previous year’s salary and send them a player, or give the team cash that amounts to 4.5 times the player’s previous annual salary.
Oh, I’m pretty sure teams were not lining up to sign these three pitchers.
Lotte Giants’ Noh Jang-jin, a 14-year veteran righthander, failed to sign a new contract with his team or any other club before midnight Monday. The Giants tried to work a trade with another club, to no avail. The Giants’ front office said they couldn’t reach Noh the whole day.
Right-handed starter Kim Soo-kyung of the Hyundai Unicorns, a former rookie of the year, was seeking a three-year, 2.5-billion won ($2.7 million) contract from the team, but had to settle for a performance-based contract. It will pay him 500 million won this season, and would be extended by two more seasons based on his performance.
Lefty Cha Myung-joo of the Hanwha Eagles, a former national team member, retired when he couldn’t reach a deal with his team and no other clubs showed interest in the 34-year-old reliever.
With the clock ticking and their season on the line, all three ended up making choices they wouldn’t have under different circumstances.
Look, no team is obliged to sign these pitchers. Noh, for instance, comes with some baggage. Before the beginning of last season, Noh abruptly left the team, leaving cell phone text messages to the coaching staff saying he needed some time off to recover from his wife’s death in 2005.
After returning to action, Noh started drinking, coming in late for practices or missing them altogether. Given these off-field issues, even without the compensation rule, not a lot of teams would have been interested in signing him.
Kim, after winning 68 games from 1998 to 2003, including a league-leading 18 in 2000, notched only 22 victories in the last three seasons. Last season, coming off knee surgery in the winter, he went 4-7. His 27-year-old body may already be breaking down.
With the deadline rule, teams simply have too much leverage, and a player’s season ― maybe his career ― hinges almost entirely on teams’ willingness to sign him. The compensation rule is a huge discouragement for teams to go after free agents.
The league must modify its free agency rules to give its players more freedom. The deadline is okay: Just give free agents another chance to negotiate, perhaps during spring training or at some point during the season. Why penalize them for wanting to get maximum value on their contracts?
Get rid of the compensation rule: Why would any team want to sign a player and pay his previous team all that money at the same time?
The powers that be at the league office might not realize this, but we’re living in the 21st century.


by Yoo Jee-ho


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