Rich clubs stay on sidelines during FA frenzy

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Rich clubs stay on sidelines during FA frenzy

Though it’s not over yet, the free-agent (FA) market in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) this winter has been hot, with teams setting a new record for amount spent on signing players.

However, the league’s two so-called two rich clubs - the Samsung Lions and the Kia Tigers - have not made big moves.

As of Sunday, 18 out of 22 FAs have signed new deals. Eleven stayed with their original teams, while seven players decided to play for new clubs next season. The total value of their contracts was more than 71.7 billion won ($61.7 million), surpassing last year’s 63 billion won from 19 FAs.

Four FAs are still waiting to be signed. Among them, Kim Hyun-soo, an FA from the Korean Series champion Doosan Bears, has declared he will first try to play overseas, while Bears captain Oh Jae-won hasn’t yet come to the table as he is completing military training. The remaining FAs are Park Jae-sang of the SK Wyverns and Ko Young-min of the Bears.

Under KBO rules, teams who sign an FA from another club must compensate the player’s original club by giving them triple the player’s salary from 2015 or double the player’s salary and sending them one player not included in their 20-man protection list. Only rookie club KT Wiz is exempt.

The Wyverns on Sunday announced they picked LG Twins infielder Choi Seung-joon as compensation for their FA catcher Jung Sang-ho signing with the Twins. The Wyverns will also receive 460 million won, double Jung’s salary in 2015.

Although there are four FAs left in the market, so far this year the so-called rich clubs have not opened their purses aggressively. Instead, the Hanwha Eagles and the Lotte Giants have been the biggest spenders, shelling out 19.1 billion won and 13.8 billion won, respectively.

The Samsung Lions, which is run by the nation’s top conglomerate, signed a two-year deal worth 3.6 billion won with the team’s 39-year-old franchise star Lee Seung-yeop, but lost third baseman Park Sok-min.

Park signed a four-year deal worth 8.6 billion won with the NC Dinos. Including a 1 billion won option, the 30-year-old became highest-paid player in KBO history.

The Lions had been a big player in the FA market. The Daegu-based club was once ridiculed by baseball fans with the nickname “Donsung,” which combines the Korean word for money and Samsung.

But about seven years ago, the Lions switched their strategy to raising young players instead of signing big players in the FA market. Last year, they lost veteran right-hander Bae Young-soo and lefty reliever Kwon Hyuk to the Hanwha Eagles. This year, team captain Park left for the Dinos.

The Lions’ transformation is in step with Samsung’s slimming down by selling some of its affiliates. Samsung Group last year transferred management of its football, basketball and volleyball teams to Cheil Worldwide, the group’s advertising and marketing unit. Previously, these clubs were managed by separate affiliates. The baseball club is believed to be the next up for transferring.

The Kia Tigers, owned by the nation’s second-largest conglomerate, Hyundai Motor Group, also hasn’t been aggressively signing. The team re-signed infielder Lee Bum-ho with a four-year deal worth 3.6 billion won with an option, but no additional deals have been made.

Instead, the team focused on signing foreign players. It invested a total of $3.3 million for signing pitchers Hector Noesi and Zeke Spruill, as well as re-capturing Brett Pill.

Noesi, a Dominican who previously played for the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees, signed a one-year deal worth $1.7 million, while Spruill, a former Arizona Diamond back pitcher, inked a $700,000 deal.

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]
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