Korean NPB players subject of trade rumors

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Korean NPB players subject of trade rumors

Two struggling Korean players in the Nippon Professional Baseball league have recently been linked to trade rumors, which - if true - could give them a new lease on life this season.

According to various reports and speculation, Lee Bum-ho of the SoftBank Hawks could make a move to the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization and Lee Seung-yeop of the Yomiuri Giants might wind up with the NPB’s Yakult Swallows.

Lee Bum-ho, a 29-year-old third baseman, joined the SoftBank Hawks last season as part of a two-year deal with an optional one-year extension. The contract, inked in November, is worth 500 million yen (6.85 billion won, $5.8 million). However, having failed to impress team manager Koji Akiyama in spring training, Lee Bum-ho has not retained his spot with the Hawks as the season progressed.

Since being demoted to the minor leagues in late May, Lee Bum-ho has produced respectable numbers with the Hawks’ farm team, batting .279 with nine home runs and 23 RBI in 29 games. Still, there are no indications the third baseman will get a call up to the NPB any time soon.

In an effort to strengthen its batting order, the Hawks’ front office signed former LG Twin Roberto Petagine instead of utilizing Lee Bum-ho in its lineup.

Speculation that Lee Bum-ho will return to the Hanwha Eagles, his former team in the KBO, has been gaining momentum since the player’s demotion to the minors. Hanwha manager Han Dae-hwa even discussed the possibility of bringing the third baseman back with Yoon Jong-hwa, the Eagles’ general manager, on June 26.

“We didn’t discuss the matter in depth, but I asked the general manager if there was any way of bringing Lee back to our team,” Han said. “Since Song Kwang-min’s departure to serve his mandatory military service, we’ve had a big hole to fill at third base.”

Yoon has refrained from discussing the matter with the media.

At the same time, Japanese media are reporting that veteran first baseman Lee Seung-yeop could be on his way to the Swallows soon.

According to a report on Monday in the Japanese daily Nikkan Gendai, there is a high chance Lee Seung-yeop will join the Swallows by the end of this month with a little help from the team’s hitting instructor, Takao Ise. Ise is familiar with Korean players, having served as the SK Wyverns hitting coach for two seasons. He also has maintained close relations with Lee for many years.

The report mentioned that there is a low chance Lee will re-sign with the Giants.

As a pinch hitter in the NPB, Lee hit .173 with five home runs and 11 RBI. He was then demoted to the minors on June 21 and has struggled to find playing time.

Although it would not be easy for the two players to make a switch to another team in the middle of the season, it could provide them with a chance to revive their careers.

By Kim Seek [jason@joonang.co.kr]
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