In a first, KBO club profits from transfer feeCan foreign players’ transfer fees become a new revenue source for the Korea Baseball Organization?
On Wednesday, the Nexen Heroes announced their pitcher Andy Van Hekken would go to Japan, signing with the Seibu Lions. By giving up ownership of the 36-year-old American, the Heroes will reportedly receive $300,000 from the Nippon Professional Baseball club.
If the deal is completed, this will be the first time in KBO history that a local club has received money to send a player to an overseas club, or a so-called transfer fee.
The move came as a surprise because the KBO doesn’t allow clubs to sign multi-year deals with foreign players, and the Heroes hadn’t announced they’d signed contract for the 2016 season with Van Hekken.
But it turned out that the Seoul-based club had quietly signed a new deal worth $1.2 million, up from the $800,000 he received for 2015.
This season, Van Hekken finished 15-8 with 3.62 ERA in 32 games. He had 193 strikeouts, the second-best in the league. The former Detroit Tigers player has played with the Heroes since 2012 and was the Golden Glove winner last year after going 20-6 with a 3.51 ERA.
However, Van Hekken told the Heroes that he wanted to go Japan because of the offer he’d received from the Lions earlier this month, and so the Heroes mulled their options.
“After meeting, the management reached the conclusion that we can’t release him for free,” said the Heroes. “Since we do have ownership of Van Hekken for next season, we told them to pay us some kind of compensation, and we decided on $300,000.”
Japanese clubs are well-known for having deep pockets and the willingness to shell out for top-notch foreign talent, and in recent offseasons, KBO clubs haven’t had enough cash on hand to compete.
After winning the Korean Series title last year, the Samsung Lions saw their Dutch pitcher Rick van den Hurk leave for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. In 2013, the SK Wyverns saw Chris Seddon move to the Yomiuri Giants.
“When foreign players go to Japanese teams, we felt like we have been robbed because we raised them,” said one official from a KBO club who asked not to be named. “Other teams have same feeling. This is why the Heroes’ transfer fee is meaningful.”
The case of Van Hekken has led to some in the KBO arguing that clubs should be allowed to sign multi-year deals with foreign players, which would offer the clubs a better shot of receiving a transfer fee and recouping some of their investment if a player moves overseas.
Another option would be to increase the number of foreign players clubs can have. Currently, each team can have three non-Korean players, with two of those on the field at any given time.
“We can reduce the risk by increasing the number of foreign players allowed for each team, while limiting the number of foreign players who can play in the game,” said one official from a KBO club who asked not to be named. “The teams can nurture foreign prospects, collecting transfer fees when they go to Japan or the United States.”
While foreign players’ transfer fees is being seen as a possible a new revenue source for the KBO clubs, those with top Korean players have also been raking in cash from posting fees, which Major League Baseball clubs pay to negotiate with certain players.
The Hanwha Eagles got more than $25.73 million after sending their lefty ace Ryu Hyun-jin to the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2012 season, while the Nexen Heroes got $5 million after shortstop Kang Jung-ho went to the Pittsburgh Pirates last year and are waiting for $12.85 million to be pocketed when their slugger Park Byung-ho inks a deal with the Minnesota Twins.
BY YU BYEONG-MIN, JOO KYUNG-DON [firstname.lastname@example.org]