Oh Seung-hwan in Hanshin talks

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Oh Seung-hwan in Hanshin talks

It looks like Oh Seung-hwan of the Samsung Lions, the best closer in the Korea Baseball Organization last season, is heading to the Nippon Professional Baseball league next spring. Sports Nippon, a Japanese media outlet, reported yesterday that the Hanshin Tigers requested an “identification check” on Oh from the KBO earlier this week, and the team is close to sealing a two-year, 900 million yen ($8.9 million) deal with the 31-year-old right-hander.

The identification check is required before a NPB team starts negotiating with a player in a foreign league. A team officially notifies the foreign league that they are interested in signing a certain player and will begin negotiations according to the league’s regulations.

On Wednesday, the KBO told local media that one Japanese team has requested an identification check on Oh, but did not offer any details, in accordance with KBO regulations. However, Sports Nippon, with its close ties to the Tigers, said the team’s general manager, Nakamura Katsuhiro, will visit Korea to sign the KBO’s veteran closer by the end of the month.

In nine seasons with the Lions, Oh has a 1.69 ERA in 444 games, with 28 wins, 13 losses, 277 saves and 625 strikeouts. Oh was reportedly interested in moving either to the NPB or the MLB.

Kim Dong-wook, head of Sports Intelligence, Oh’s agency, said nothing has been decided yet and that Oh is still speaking with MLB teams. However, because Oh has not applied for the Major League’s posting system, the possibility of Oh heading there is very low.

Kim said earlier this month that about 12 teams in Japan and Major League Baseball had shown an interest in Oh and that what was decided would be wrapped up by the end of the month.

Oh became a free agent this year because he has played eight full seasons in the KBO, but he still needed one more year under his belt before he could move to a foreign league without restrictions, so the Lions had to agree to his move.

The 900 million yen for Oh reported by Sports Nippon includes the transfer fee that the Tigers will pay to the Lions. It is questionable whether any MLB team would be willing to pay that much for a player with experience only in the KBO.

Pitcher Jim Johnson of Baltimore Orioles, who had 51 saves last season, the most in the American league, cost $6.5 million.

The MLB teams that have been interested in Oh, such as the New York Yankees, reportedly consider him more of a setup man than a closer.

Oh previously told the Korean media that he wanted to play as a closer wherever he went next season. Fujikawa Kyuji, the former Tigers closer, signed with the Chicago Cubs on a two-year, $9.5 million deal after the 2012 season.

“One thing we can say for sure is that Oh doesn’t want to play in the KBO anymore because he already dominated the league and he wanted bigger challenges,” Kim told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “He said he doesn’t care whether the team next year is in the NPB or MLB.”

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

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