KBO’s free agents are more valuable than ever

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KBO’s free agents are more valuable than ever

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Yoon Seong-hwan, Jang Won-jun, Choi Jeong

This year may be remembered by baseball fans as the year that the value of free agent players sharply increased. Last year, Korean teams spent a total of 52.35 billion won ($47.02 million) on 15 free agents, but this year’s figure has already hit 55.56 billion won for only 13 out of the 19 available free-agent players.

Lefty Jang Won-jun of the Lotte Giants, considered one of the most compelling free-agent players this year, turned down his team’s 8.8 billion won ($7.9 million) offer to sign a four-year contract with the Doosan Bears on Saturday for 8.4 billion won, including a 4 billion won bonus.

Jang, who spent the past 11 years with the Giants, has recorded 10 wins or more for five consecutive years. This year, he went 10-9 in 27 games with a 4.59 ERA.

Jang is the third free-agent player to secure a contract worth 8 billion won or more this year. On Wednesday, which was the last day for teams to make contracts to keep their free-agents, infielder Choi Jeong of SK Wyverns signed on for a record high of 8.6 billion won for four years with a 4.2 billion won signing bonus, and Samsung Lions managed to keep pitcher Yoon Seong-hwan for 8 billion won for four years, including 4 billion won signing bonus.

Samsung Lions setup man An Ji-man is staying with the team for 6.5 billion won for four years, SK Wyverns outfielder Kim Kang-min decided to stay for 5.6 billion won for four years and LG Twins also kept Park Yong-taik for 5 billion won for the same period.

Former Samsung left-hander Kwon Hyuk added 3.4 billion to his contract with a move to Hanhwa Eagles, while siblings Cho Dong-chan (Samsung, 2.8 billion won) and Cho Dong-hwa (SK, 2.2 billion won) also decided to stay with their teams.

KT Wiz, which is moving up to the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) next season, also got in on the action. Each team can sign three free agents, and KT quickly spent 4.41 billion when the market opened to sign Kim Sa-yul (1.45 billion won), Park Kyeong-soo (1.82 billion won) and Park Ki-hyuk (1.14 billion won).

Kim Kyeong-eon is staying with his home team Hanhwa Eagles for 850 million won for four years.

But the amount spent on free agents this year will continue to increase. There are still six players who haven’t finalized a deal with a KBO team, and the window closes on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the KBO disclosed the list of players that the nine current professional teams are keeping for the next year on Sunday. Each team has to submit a roster of 63 players or fewer it is keeping next season.

Among those who were not re-selected by their teams is Kim Dong-joo of Doosan Bears. The 38-year-old veteran played in 1,625 games and posted a .309 batting average with 273 homers and 1,097 RBIs. The aging slugger is now looking for a team to spend his last years at the ballpark with.

Some of those who were released have already found a new team. Infielder Jang Seong-ho of Lotte Giants signed with KT Wiz and outfielder Lim Jae-cheol of LG Twins is moving to Lotte.

Some have chosen to join the coaching staff at a KBO club. Among them are former Samsung Lions players Kang Myeong-gu and Chae Sang-Byeong. Kang is preparing to become a scouter and Chae will stay on as a coach.

BY KIM BONG-MOON [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]
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