[SPORTS VIEW]Major snub of 2 local stars makes sense

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[SPORTS VIEW]Major snub of 2 local stars makes sense

Two Korean pitchers seeking to play in the Major Leagues, Lim Chang-yong of the Samsung Lions and Jin Pil-joong of the Doosan Bears, recently failed to get attractive offers, and will be staying home. Lim, 26, was offered about $650,000, which included a signing bonus. Jin, 30, was offered a minor league contract for a piddling $25,000. Considering that the offers included transfer fees, it shows how low the pair's talent is rated. The offer for Jin was the minor league minimum. Both are aces for their teams, and both are among the best pitchers on the peninsula.

Samsung and Doosan -- expecting big payoffs from Major League clubs to release the players -- issued statements of outrage and offense at the low offers. Both expected to get $1 million to $3 million for their aces.

A surprise? For some, yes; but Lim and Jin are different from the Korean pitchers who have successfully made the jump to North America: Park Chan-ho of the Texas Rangers and Kim Byung-hyun of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Last year, Park landed a five-year contract worth $71 million. Kim signed a $2.4 million four-year deal with the Diamondbacks when he joined the team in 1999 and will fetch a much bigger contract next season.

The fundamental difference between Park and Kim and the latest duo making a pitch for the big leagues is that Park and Kim entered the Major Leagues when they were still green, about 20 years old. Neither had played at the professional level in Korea; that meant it was easy for their first clubs -- the Los Angeles Dodgers for Park and the Diamondbacks for Kim -- to develop their techniques and help them become hurlers who could cut it in the show.

Park and Kim quickly learned how the game is played at the highest level.

Park, though he had a disappointing 9-8 record this year, had a solid run with the Dodgers before that, winning at least 13 games per year for five straight seasons. Kim had a tremendous year in 2002, setting a team record with 36 saves.

Major League teams aren't eager to take older players such as Lim and Jin, who have just become free agents after playing seven years in the Korean League. Why would they? They have their own big farm systems stocked with plenty of players loaded with potential -- and they can sign talented Latin American players without having to pay a Korean club a hefty transfer fee.

Lim and Jin each have at least seven years of experience in the Korean League, so they're in tune with the local style of play. It's questionable whether they will be able to improve beyond that or adjust to a different caliber. While their records in the Korean League may be stellar, that doesn't translate into success in the Major Leagues. And they aren't exactly young anymore.

If players in the Korean pro league are to make the jump to North America, the league has to lower the minimum years a player must play before he is eligible for free agency. Now it is seven, making prospects too old or too set in their ways for Major League clubs to take a risk on them.

Changing the free agent rules would help our pros get a shot at the Majors. Still, they should remember that while their stuff works here, it could be worthless somewhere else.

by Brian Lee

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