21 KBO players opt for free agency; 7 come from NC Dinos

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21 KBO players opt for free agency; 7 come from NC Dinos

Yang Eui-ji of the NC Dinos celebrates after hitting a two-run home run against the Doosan Bears on Sept. 21.  [YONHAP]

Yang Eui-ji of the NC Dinos celebrates after hitting a two-run home run against the Doosan Bears on Sept. 21. [YONHAP]

The NC Dinos could be the biggest losers in the KBO free agent market this season, with one third of the 21 players opting for free agency coming from the Changwon club.
The Dinos have more than double as many players in the market than any other team, including star infielder Park Min-woo and catcher-come-designated-hitter Yang Eui-ji, who joined the Dinos on what, at the time, was a record free agent deal at the end of 2018.
Pitchers Lee Jae-hak and Won Jong-hyan also opted for free agency, as did infielder No Jin-hyuk and outfielders Kwon Hui-dong and Lee Myung-ki.
Park Min-woo is the only of the Dinos’ free agents to fall into the KBO’s “A” category for the top players. At 35 years old, prolific slugger Yang falls into the B category, but is still likely to fetch a good price on the market.
The LG Twins have three free agents, who of whom fall into the “A” category: catcher Yoo Kang-nam and infielder Chae Eun-seong. Seo Geon-chang, another infielder, was a potential “A” free agent, but opted not to enter the market this year. Pitcher Kim Jin-sung completes the LG free agent lineup.
No other team has more than two free agents.
The 2023 KBO champion SSG Landers had six potential free agents this season, but only two actually opted to enter the market: pitcher Lee Tae-yang and utility man Oh Tae-gon.
Both potential Kiwoom Heroes free agents also opted to enter the market: Pitchers Han Hyun-hee and Jeong Chan-heon.
Infielders Oh Sun-jin and Kim Sang-su are the only players to opt for free agency at the Samsung Lions, with the Daegu club also avoiding a far bigger loss with outfielder Koo Ja-wook opting not to move.
The five remaining clubs all have one free agent each.
The Kia Tigers and the Doosan Bears are in the most danger, both having to fight for their starting catchers: Park Dong-won for the Tigers and Park Sei-hyok for the Bears.
For the KT Wiz, infielder Shin Bon-ki is the sole free agent. The Giants and Eagles both have “C” category pitchers — Kang Yoon-goo for Lotte and Jang Si-hwan for the Eagles, leaving the two sides practically untouched in this year’s free agent market.
Team will be able to begin signing free agents from Thursday.
The KBO free agent market has been fairly dramatic in recent years. In 2019, a total of 24 players were eligible for free agency, while in 2020 the Bears alone had seven players opt for free agency. Last year was relatively quieter, with 14 players only opting for free agency, although some fairly big names did change hands.
This year’s market looks set to be fairly unpredictable after the KBO on Monday announced the introduction of a team salary cap for the first time in the league’s history.
The cap is set at 11,426,380,000 won, a figure that the league arrived at after at the average combined salary of the top-40 highest paid players at each club over the last two years, excluding foreign players and rookies.
If a team breaks the salary cap they will have to pay 50 percent of the excess in a fine to the league. Repeat offenders will have to pay the entire excess in a fine and fall nine spots in the following year’s rookie draft.
Three teams would have broken that salary cap this season.
The SSG Landers paid out over 24.8 billion won, more than double the new salary cap. The Samsung Lions paid 12.8 billion won and the NC Dinos paid 12.5 billion won.
The Hanwha Eagles and the Kiwoom Heroes paid the least this season, at around 5 billion won each, suggesting they are likely to be big players in the free agent market.

BY JIM BULLEY [jim.bulley@joongang.co.kr]
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