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Languishing Twins finally manage to get their man

[The Pick offs]

May 14,2014
The last-place LG Twins have no intention of giving up on making it to the postseason, but if they don’t, there’s likely to be a big generational shift.

That’s the context surrounding the Twins’ hiring of its former pitching coach, Yang Sang-moon, as the club’s new manager.

After losing 8-1 to the Nexen Heroes on Sunday, the Twins announced a deal with the 53-year-old baseball analyst who was once one of the best pitchers in the Korea Baseball Organization. The 1.35 billion won ($1.32 million) contract extends through 2017.

Since the former manager, Kim Ki-tae, who led the club to the postseason last year for the first time in 11 years, resigned from the post in mid-April after a bad start, the club has been run by Coach Cho Kye-hyun. But under Cho, the Twins compiled a record of 6-11 through Sunday as fans and analysts criticized the club for taking too much time to name a new manager.

In going with Yang, it looks like the Twins made a decision that can satisfy fans in many ways.

Yang began his coaching career with the Lotte Giants in 1994 and had two stints as the Twins’ pitching coach from 2002-3 and 2007-8. In 2004, he was the manager of the Busan-based Giants, who had finished last the previous three seasons. Under Yang, the Giants finished in fifth place, narrowly missing the playoffs.

In the meantime, several young Giants prospects such as catcher Kang Min-ho, pitcher Jang Won-joon and slugger Lee Dae-ho, who now plays for Japan’s Softbank Hawks, became team leaders. In 2008, the Giants advanced to the postseason for the first time in eight years.

“I think we made the best decision,” said the Twins’ general manager, Baek Soon-gil. “He has experience and knows our players better than any other candidate. The reason we gave him a three-and-a-half-year contract is because we wanted to give him enough time to consider the big picture.”

Yang has experience reshaping a dreadful team and an eye for identifying young prospects, and he won’t hesitate to fill his lineup card with young players over old veterans.

No matter that it was a decision late in the making, having Yang in the dugout seems reasonable for a club like the Twins that is loaded with veterans like Lee Byung-kyu (39), Park Yong-taik (35) and Lee Jin-young (34). There have been rumors in the past that veterans sometimes clashed with new managers, but Yang is a familiar face who also has had a good relationship with many players. He won’t need to spend a lot of time getting to know his players and can concentrate on commanding the clubhouse.

Yang is also expected to improve the team’s pitching, which was one of the biggest reasons the Twins made it to the postseason last year. The team’s 3.72 ERA in 2013 has skyrocketed this season to 5.11 through Monday.

Yang is considered one of the best pitching coaches for in-game mound management and developing young pitchers. He also contributed to the Korean national baseball team’s second-place finish in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

“I think I’m not going to make many changes now, for sure, because we are in the middle of the season,” Yang said yesterday. “I have been an analyst over the past four years and I think that experience broadened my outlook on baseball. I have learned many things, therefore, I can bring those experiences to the Twins and build a winning team.”

BY KWON SANG-SOO [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]






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