After free agent losses, Giants will try to regroup
The Lotte Giants entered the off-season seeking to strengthen their chronically weak pitching, which they saw as a big reason why they failed to end their long title drought in 2012. But after losing two key sluggers to free agency, the Giants could struggle more at the plate than on the mound next season.
Hong Sung-heon left the Busan team for the Doosan Bears and Kim Joo-chan signed with the Kia Tigers.
That is certain to cause more offensive erosion for a team that had already sent Lee Dae-ho, one of the Korea Baseball Organization’s top home run hitters, to Japan’s Orix Buffaloes.
Hong, 36, and Kim, 31, combined for 20 homers this year, more than a quarter of the Giants’ total of 74.
And they had 113 RBI between them, of 23.6 percent of the team total of 479.
Their departures compound Lotte’s efforts to transform itself into a pitching powerhouse under new manager Kim Si-jin. Kim, a former star KBO pitcher known for his success with pitchers, brought his coaching staff, including Jung Min-tae, from his former club, the Nexen Heroes.
His focus on pitching led the club to re-sign Shane Youman, the 33-year-old American ace, Monday night. Youman, who led the Giants with 13 wins, agreed to a one-year, $375,000 contract.
“We are thinking of bringing another player from overseas, probably a a pitcher,” said an official with the Giants.
KBO teams are allowed a maximum of two foreign players. Ryan Sadowski, another American pitcher for the Giants whose arm injury held him to eight victories, is not expected to return for 2013.
The official said the club will investigate all its options to make up for the loss of Hong and Kim. Under KBO rules, the team acquiring a free agent must give up one of its players who is not on the 20-man protection list or cash to the free agent’s former team.
A rumor is that the Giants may bring in Kim Dong-joo, a slugger with the Bears, if the Seoul club does not put him up on its soon-to-be-announced protection list.
“We will see who will be on the (protection) lists (of the Bears and the Tigers),” the official said. “But we don’t know yet whether they will be pitchers or position players.”
Meanwhile, all of 11 free agents this year had signed contracts by Monday, five of them with new teams.
Lee Ho-joon, a designated hitter with the SK Wyverns, moved to the newly created NC Dinos, joining Lee Hyun-gon, an infielder with the Kia Tigers. Jong Hyun-wook, a Samsung Lions pitcher, moved to the LG Twins.
The total amount of their deals stood at 24.26 billion won ($22.41 million). Last year, 17 free agents made deals, seven of them with new teams, at a combined value of 29.36 billion won.
By Moon Gwang-lip [email@example.com]