Contract talks delay Yang's prodigal son return to Gwangju
After an unsuccessful attempt to break into the majors, Yang Hyeon-jong was expected to quickly ease back into life with the Kia Tigers this winter. But that Gwangju homecoming isn't going as smoothly as expected, with reports Wednesday that the two parties are struggling to agree on contract terms.
According to the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday, Tigers General Manager Jang Jung-suk met with Yang's agent on Tuesday, with a four-year deal worth 10 billion won ($8.4 million) reportedly on the table. Negotiations failed on Tuesday, with Yang's representative reportedly unhappy with Kia's offer.
The issue may be incentives. Kia's offer is believed to include significant incentives, rather than guaranteed salary. This is likely a safety measure on the part of the club — Yang is 33 years old and the last couple of years, whether in the United States or Korea, certainly haven't been the best of his career.
After playing his entire career in Gwangju, Yang left the Tigers last year in favor of a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers, where he hoped to break into the big leagues and make a name for himself. He ended up having a rollercoaster year, shuttling between the majors and minors in the Rangers farm system.
Yang was called up in late April, debuting on April 27 with an impressively long relief appearance, pitching four and one third innings and giving up five hits and two runs while striking out one for a 4.15 ERA. Yang's four inning stint was the second-longest relief appearance ever by a Texas Ranger in his MLB debut, but things quickly started to go awry for the fledgling Texan and he was sent down again in June after a difficult few starts.
He bounced back up again in late August, appearing in a single game before being sent down again, only to return within 24 hours when MLB rosters were expanded from 26 to 28 players.
Yang appeared in three games during his last stint and was sent down again in the middle of September. His 12 major league appearances leave him with a 5.60 ERA, three losses and an expired one-year contract.
In Korea, Yang was a very different caliber player. After making his first appearance with the Tigers in 2007, Yang has appeared in 425 games across 14 seasons, with a 3.83 career ERA and 147 wins to his name.
Yang was posted by the Tigers after the 2014 season but couldn't land a major deal then.
In each of the ensuing six seasons since deciding to stay with the Tigers, Yang has thrown at least 170 innings. In that span, the workhorse left-hander leads all KBO pitchers with 85 wins, 10 complete games, 925 strikeouts and 1,119 and one-third innings pitched.
In 2017, Yang was voted the regular season MVP here, thanks to a 20-6 record and a 3.44 ERA. He earned the Korean Series MVP award in 2017 by leading the Tigers to their first championship in eight years. Yang pitched a complete game shutout and saved the clinching game in that series.
Yang was even better in 2019, when he was 16-8 with a 2.29 ERA in 29 starts while giving up only six home runs in 184 and two-thirds innings. Yang was quieter in the 2020 season, with 11 wins and 10 losses in 31 starts with a 4.70 ERA.
Yang really is a one-club man and he likely will reach a deal with the Tigers, although the fact that his preference for the club is so well known probably weakens his negotiating position.
His popularity with fans, however, is indisputable. Few players become such talismanic representatives of their club as Yang is for the Tigers. If he ends up wearing any other jersey next season, there could well be mutiny at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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