Players embark on free agent contract talks as season draws to a closeNow that baseball season is over, fans are paying more attention to the free agent (FA) market and player transfers.
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) said on Saturday that 22 players are FAs for 2016. From Sunday to this Saturday, these FAs can negotiate a new contract with their original club and if they don’t reach agreement they will be allowed to negotiate with other clubs, including overseas teams, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 5. If they still don’t make a deal during this period, they can negotiate with all clubs, including their original club, from Dec. 6 to Jan. 15.
In the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), the free agent system was first adopted after the 1999 season was over. This allowed players who have played 10 seasons earn FA status.
Hanwha Eagles pitcher Song Jin-woo was the first player to sign a FA deal in 2000 along with four other players.
But after 2001, the KBO lowered the bar, saying that those who played nine seasons could be declared FAs. In 2011, the KBO added a clause that players who graduated after four-years at college and were registered in the Korea Baseball Association for four years could become a FA after eight seasons.
Excluding next year’s 22 players, so far, 157 players have signed FA deals. There were 19 FAs in the market this season, the largest in the KBO history.
Former Haitai Tigers (now Kia Tigers) pitcher Kim Jung-soo had the cheapest FA deal in history with one-year deal worth 50 million won ($43,159) in 2000, while Kia Tigers pitcher Yoon Suk-min inked the most expensive deal in history with a four-year deal worth 9 billion won this year after he returned from the United States.
Samsung Lions’ slugger Lee Seung-yeop was the first player to sign with an overseas club after becoming a FA at the end of the 2003 season. He went to Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines. Beside Lee, there have been six other players who went overseas after becoming FAs - Lee Byung-kyu, Lee Hye-chun, Kim Tae-gyun, Lee Bum-ho, Lee Dae-ho and Yoon Suk-min.
The accumulated value of the FA market in 2014 was 52.35 billion won, but this jumped to 63.06 billion won in 2015.
Ilgan Sports, an affiliate of Korea JoongAng Daily, last week reviewed FAs in the KBO that have made memorable deals in the past year.
Song, who served as the pitching coach for the Korea national team in the Premier 12, was the first player to sign the FA deal. In late 1999, he signed a three-year deal worth 700 million won with his original club Hanwha Eagles. In 2003, the lefty pitcher had a three-year deal worth 1.8 billion won and in 2006, he inked a two-year deal worth 1.4 billion won. Song, 49, is the first player to have a multi-year deal three times.
The Lotte Giants have been criticized for being too frugal to sign big players, but they changed their minds after the 2003 season. They signed outfielder Jung in a six-year deal worth 4.06 billion won from the Doosan Bears. This was the first time a KBO team signed a player with a six-year deal. Jung created issues on-and-off the field, and in terms of performance, fans say his signing turned out to be controversial.
After losing to now defunct Hyundai Unicorns in the 2004 Korean Series, Samsung Lions have showed their money power in the FA market. Supported by the nation’s top conglomerate Samsung Group, the team signed power hitter Shim Jong-soo in a four-year deal worth 6 billion won from the Unicorns. Later, the Lions also signed the Unicorns shortstop Park Jin-man in a four-year deal worth 3.9 billion. It took nine years to break Shim’s FA deal record.
After the 2010 season, Lee declared an FA by the Hanwha Eagles, but failed to sign with any other clubs. But Lee changed the FA rule through a lawsuit. Back then, FAs who couldn’t sign a contract with any clubs by Jan. 15 had to wait another year to ink a deal with other clubs. But Lee, former catcher, scrapped this regulation by winning the lawsuit which allowed FAs to sign a contract with clubs even after Jan. 15.
In 2009, the Nexen Heroes, the only KBO club not affiliated with one of the country’s conglomerates, received two players and 2.5 billion won cash from the LG Twins for trading outfielder Lee Taek-geun. After 2011, Lee earned his FA status and the Heroes made a big bet to bring him back on a four-year deal worth 5 billion won. Some local pundits point out this deal was the start of an overheated FA market.
Lotte Giants catcher Kang Min-ho didn’t have a good season in 2013, but entered the FA market with the advantage of being a young, hard-hitting catcher. The 30-year-old then broke Shim’s FA deal record by signing a four-year deal worth 7.5 billion won with the Giants.
Kang’s record didn’t last long because SK Wyverns third baseman Choi Jeong signed a four-year deal worth 8.6 billion won with the Wyverns after the 2014 season to become the most expensive field player ever. Besides Choi, Doosan Bears signed lefty ace Jang Won-jun in a four-year deal worth 8.4 billion won from the Giants, while Samsung Lions grabbed pitcher Yoon Sung-hwan in a four-year deal worth 8 billion won.
BY HAN YONG-SEOP [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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