KBO’s free agent market continues to develop, but slowly

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KBO’s free agent market continues to develop, but slowly


After Doosan Bears’ Kim Jae-ho signed a free agent (FA) deal with his team, Na Ji-wan of the KIA Tigers became the second player this year among 15 FAs to finalize the deal, inking a four-year deal with the Tigers. While some landed their FA deals, others, such as Choi Hyoung-woo of the Samsung Lions, are garnering interest from overseas foreign leagues. But other than Kim and Na, players in the FA market this year have yet to find a home.

Since the free agency of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) opened up earlier this month, Kim Jae-ho, an All-Star shortstop for the Bears and the starting shortstop for the Korean national team, was first to tie up a contract, re-signing with the champions on Nov. 15.

Then came Na Ji-wan of the Tigers, who also decided to stay with his team, even after becoming a FA.

Na signed his contract, which is worth up to four billion won ($3.39 million), on Thursday. The 31-year-old outfielder will make 600 million won annually as a base salary after earning 1.6 billion won as a signing bonus.

Putting on the Tigers uniform in 2008, Na grew to become a franchise star, spending almost a decade as a Tiger.

This year, he showed up in 118 games and batted .308 (117-for-380), belting out 25 home runs and tallying 90 runs batted in (RBI). He also showed veteran-like contact skill, posting a .451 on-base percentage, which is third in the league this year.

Aside from the seven-homer season he had last year, Na has always been someone the Tigers could count on when it came to slugging, cranking out more than 10 dingers since his debut season. In his nine-season career as a Tiger, Na has sent 145 long balls over the fence while batting .279 throughout. Combined with his career on-base percentage of .389, Na is both a slugger and a solid lead off.

“I never once considered leaving the Tigers,” he said after inking the deal, “as they’ve given me a team to play for and reared me to become who I am today. I’m glad to be able to stay a Tiger.”

But the KBO FA market has yet to reach its most active phase.

After Na finalized his contract with the Tigers on Thursday, it was reported on Friday that the Major League Baseball (MLB) has requested a status check on six KBO players: Kim Kwang-hyun, Yang Hyun-jong, Woo Kyu-min, Cha Woo-chan, Choi Hyoung-woo and Hwang Jae-gyun. The MLB had already requested a status check on Kim and Cha earlier this month.

The six players are FAs and any teams, domestic or overseas, can sign a deal with them without going through the posting system, in which MLB teams must pay posting fees to the domestic teams of the interested players.

The MLB must make a status check through the league office before signing a KBO player. Once they are cleared to play overseas, teams contact the players for negotiation, although the identities of the MLB clubs are hidden until the deal is sealed.

At the moment, most of these players are interested in playing overseas. Kim, Yang and Hwang have already expressed their interest in playing in the United States while Cho, Choi and Woo are still shopping for options both at home and abroad.

Among the six FAs, Hwang, a third baseman and utility player from the Lotte Giants, will host a showcase in from of interested Major League scouts on Monday, local time, in Florida. Although Hwang failed to sign a deal with a Major League team last year, his prospect at the Big League looks promising this time after reaching a career high at the KBO this year.

BY CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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