Giants tread softly on Lee Dae-ho contract

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Giants tread softly on Lee Dae-ho contract

No one in the Busan Lotte Giants’ front office would argue that their star first baseman Lee Dae-ho is not coming off the best season any player has ever had in the KBO. He led the league in seven categories - home runs, hits, RBI, runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

The Giants, though, are struggling with how to reward Lee, who expects a raise even though he is under contract through the upcoming season.

The team is notoriously stingy, but is treading lightly for fear of disenfranchising their star player and blowing their chances of re-signing him after his contract expires at the end of the 2011 season.

Lee’s was paid 390 million won ($342,030) in 2010, and his salary will be the same through 2011 barring renegotiation. He has not revealed how much of a raise he expects, but said in the past: “I think I’m deserving of the biggest contract in the league.”

The highest paid player this year was the Seoul Doosan Bears’ Kim Dong-joo, who raked in 700 million won.

To put Lee’s 2010 season in perspective, no other batter had ever led the league in seven offensive categories. In addition, Lee set a world record by hitting home runs in nine consecutive games. Lee was the overwhelming winner of the season’s Most Valuable Player and Golden Glove Awards.

It is still unclear whether - or to what extent - the Giants’ front office will give into Lee’s demands.

“Lee will get a two-digit percent increase in his annual salary this year,” said Giants General Manager Bae Jae-hoo.

Having strengthened third base through the acquisition of Hwang Jae-gyoon and Ko Won-joon from the Seoul Nexen Heroes this year, the Giants do not have a lot of room to maneuver in their payroll. The Giants and Heroes officials deny it, but many speculate that a significant sum of money was exchanged to lure Hwang and Ko from the cash-strapped Heroes.

The Giants front office is also known to be uncompromising when it comes to contract negotiations. At the end of the 2009 season, Lotte tried to cut Lee’s salary. Club officials ended up caving in after being chastised by Busan’s diehard baseball fans.

“Lee’s contract will likely be the last contract we deal with this offseason,” said one Lotte official.

It’s an indication that the Giants front office expects the renegotiation process to be a difficult one. The Giants finished fourth in the regular season and were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Doosan. In playing an entertaining and offensive brand of baseball, several Lotte players recorded personal best seasons.

By Choi Min-kyu []
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