Eagles to go home early for tenth year in a row

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Eagles to go home early for tenth year in a row

The Hanwha Eagles have managed to take home one title this season - although not one they can be proud of. As the Eagles are now definitely going to end the year in the bottom half and fail to progress to the postseason for the tenth consecutive season, they have managed to tie the record for the most consecutive seasons played without advancing.


Hanwha Eagles players wait in the dugout for the game to resume after it was suspended due to rain at the beginning of the seventh, during a game against the LG Twins at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in July. [JOONGANG PHOTO]

Though the Eagles defeated the Nexen Heroes on Thursday at home 10-2, a 5-13 loss to the Samsung Lions the previous day was the final nail in the coffin for the Eagles’ hopes of advancing to the postseason. Even if they win every remaining game in the regular season, they still won’t be able to make the cut.

The Eagles’ record of failing to advance to the postseason is now bad enough to tie with the LG Twins, whose drought ran from 2002 to 2012.

The Eagles appointed their most recent manager, Kim Sung-keun, before the 2015 season. They also strengthened their roster with three free agent pitchers - Kwon Hyuk, Bae Young-soo and Song Eun-beom - but that wasn’t much help as they finished sixth in the regular season. During the 2016 season the Eagles inched closer to the postseason, but fell at the last hurdle. With just three games remaining of the regular season, they ended up slipping down to finish in seventh.

The Eagles’ struggles may have begun with a lack of investment. Up until the mid-2000s, the team didn’t spend much money to bring top players on to the team. After the FA system was established in the KBO in 1998, they’ve recruited less FAs than any other team, with a few notable exceptions like Kim Min-jae in 2005 and Song Shin-young in 2011.

Not only that, but the Eagles have failed to develop young players. Making the situation worse, until the 2009 rookie draft, the Eagles always drafted a lot fewer players than any other KBO club, preferring college graduates to high school graduates.

As the Eagles did not create a futures’ league team facility until 2012, it was almost impossible for rookie players to progress from the lower league to the KBO. Among the players drafted by the Eagles in the rookie draft, infielder Ha Ju-suk is the only one that has successfully developed into a starting player in the past ten seasons. And it took Ha six years to do so.

During Kim Eung-yong’s time as the Eagles’ manager, from 2012 until the end of the 2014 season, the club significantly increased investment, including adding Lee Yong-kyu and Jeong Keun-woo to the roster. But Kim’s lack of coaching ability, as he had been away from the field for nine years, prevented the Eagles from making any notable achievements.

The Eagles’ most recent manager, Kim Sung-keun, was as unsuccessful as his predecessor. Though the team’s performance improved, the club and Kim continuously got into conflict regarding overworking the players and other issues. As a result, Kim and the Eagles parted ways in May and the club has spent the rest of the season with an interim manager, Lee Sang-kun.

Now that the season is essentially over for the Eagles, they are going to have to start thinking about next year. As both Lee and Jeong’s contracts have ended, they have re-acquired their FA status. Though they were starting players, the two are now considered old and they will likely be dwarfed by some of the big names in the FA market. Not only that, the Eagles have to decide whether to re-sign the contracts with their foreign players.

But none of these decisions can be made until the Eagles appoint a new manager.

Right after the 2011 season, the LG Twins appointed Kim Ki-tae as their new manger and in Kim’s second season, the Twins finished second in the regular season and advanced to the playoffs. When Kim left the Twins, they quickly appointed Yang Sang-moon as their new coach and once again advanced to the postseason by finishing fourth in the regular season.

But looking at the Eagles, when Kim Eung-yong left they had the spot empty for 42 days.

“They need to evaluate the team’s situation accurately and come up with a strategy,” said Heo Gu-yeon, commentator for MBC. “That said, they need to be quick in reorganizing and appointing their new manager.”

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
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