KBO teams aim to fill wish lists

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KBO teams aim to fill wish lists

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Lee Jong-wook and Jang Won-sam

As the hot stove season for the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) officially began on Sunday, nine teams in the league are busy coming up with strategies to land the players on their shopping list. But it seems obvious what the 2013 Korean Series champions Samsung Lions will likely do in the next couple of weeks.

In a phone interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily, the Lions said they are not going spend a penny to bring in players from other clubs, and are instead focusing on re-signing their lefty ace pitcher, Jang Won-sam, and right fielder Park Han-yi, who are among the top free agents in the offseason.

Some analysts predicted that the champs might try to sign 28-year-old Lotte Giants catcher Kang Min-ho, the No.1 free agent, as their starting veteran catcher, Jin Gap-yong, is turning 39 and isn’t physically able to play more than 80 games as a catcher any more. Each team plays 125 games in the regular season. And as leadoff hitter and center fielder Bae Yeong-seob will leave the team for his military duty, they were predicted to target a speedy outfielder, such as Doosan Bears’ center fielder Lee Jong-wook.

“There will be no big signing in this hot stove season,” the Lions said. “We have been consistently trying to foster young players in our own farm system. Our goal is to finishing signing with Jang and Park this weekend.”

Free agents can negotiate with their current team until Saturday. If they can’t secure a contract with their current team, they can negotiate with any team.

Analysts said Jang, a 30-year-old lefty with 88 career wins, should get a contract that is bigger or close to the deal that right-hander Park Myung-hwan, who plays for the NC Dinos, had in 2006. He signed with the LG Twins for a 4 billion won ($3.7 million) deal for four years, including a 1.8 billion won signing bonus and a 200 million won option, which was the biggest contract for a pitcher in the history of the KBO. Jang’s salary for this season was 400 million won.

Jang, who became a free agent for the first time in his career, recently said that he wants to sign a new contract as soon as possible, but added, “I want to know how much I am worth in the market,” indicating that he won’t give the Lions a so-called “home team discount.”

A staff member of the Lions who requested anonymity said Jang and the team met in the office on Sunday and “briefly discussed” a contract, but they haven’t exchanged specific amounts.

The Lions, however, said they were able to see that Jang is willing to play for the team next season.

Meanwhile, the Hanwha Eagles, considered one of the biggest shoppers in this hot stove season, are praying that big-name free agents don’t sign with their current teams. Last week, they said they are aiming for the top two free agents, and their targets have become clearer. The Eagles want to land a player who can take the leadoff spot in their lineup.

And because the Eagles, who finished the season in last place for two consecutive seasons, need better players in basically every position, they are willing to land at least one of the three big free agents - Bears’ center fielder Lee, Tigers’ center fielder Lee Yong-kyu or Wyverns’ second baseman Jung Keun-woo. Analysts said it would be hard for the Eagles to sign the Tigers’ Lee and Jung as they recently have said that they want to stay with their current teams, but the Bears’ Lee would be the best option. The Bears have many young players who could fill Lee’s spot.

The deal for the No.1 free agent, Giants’ catcher Kang, could be done early. Sources for the Giants said they will offer a big contract in order to keep their franchise star. The Giants failed to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2007 and their attendance fell 44 percent (from 1.36 million to 760,639) compared to the 2012 season. There are rumors that the Giants are also a potential bidder for the two Lees.


BY KWON SANG-SOO [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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