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Star free agents hit market in Korean baseball

A record number of players have declared free agency in South Korea’s top professional baseball circuit, including last year’s MVP, the league office announced Wednesday.

According to the Korea Baseball Organization, 17 players declared themselves free agents for the 2012 season. That is the most since free agency was introduced in the league in 1998.

Eleven others who were eligible for free agency have decided to remain with their current clubs, the KBO said.

The KBO has eight clubs, with an expansion club NC Dinos waiting in the wings to join them in 2013. All existing clubs are owned by local conglomerates, including Samsung, SK and LG. They can sign up to three free agents.

Lee Dae-ho, a slugging first baseman for the Lotte Giants, is the highest-profile player among the free agents. He won the league MVP in 2010 after leading in seven of eight major offensive categories, including the triple crown stats of home runs, RBIs and batting average. This year, Lee won his second straight batting title and also topped the KBO in hits and on-base percentage.
Lee Dae-ho has hit at least 20 homers in seven of his eight full seasons with the Giants. (Yonhap News)
Lee Dae-ho has hit at least 20 homers in seven of his eight full seasons with the Giants. (Yonhap News)

Lee, 29, has hit at least 20 home runs in seven of his eight full seasons with the Giants, and has driven in at least 100 runs in each of the last three. Listed at 194 centimeters and 130 kilograms, Lee has also been linked with Japanese clubs this offseason.

Chong Tae-hyon, a right-handed reliever for the SK Wyverns, should also attract offers. Known for his submarine delivery, Chong has been an integral part of the Wyverns’ bullpen that led the team to KBO championships in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Chong, who turns 33 Thursday, has a career ERA of 1.93 in 569 innings pitched. He’s also excelled for South Korean national teams, helping the country to the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the runner-up finish at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Jin Kab-yong is one the KBO’s best defensive catchers. (Yonhap News)
Jin Kab-yong is one the KBO’s best defensive catchers. (Yonhap News)

Other veterans on the list include the Doosan Bears’ Kim Dong-joo, a third baseman with a career batting average of .310 over 14 seasons, and the Samsung Lions’ Jin Kab-yong, one of the KBO’s best defensive catchers.

The LG Twins have the most free agents, including hard-hitting catcher Cho In-sung.

The free agents can negotiate with the current teams for extension between Nov. 10 and 19. If their talks fall through, the players are free to talk with seven teams other than their original club during a 20-day window, from Nov. 20 to Dec. 9.

Should they fail to sign with anyone then, free agents have from Dec. 10 to Jan. 15 to talk with all eight clubs. Players not signed by Jan. 15 will be ruled ineligible to play next season.

To be eligible for free agency in the KBO, position players who graduated from four-year universities must have played in at least two-thirds of the team’s regular-season games for eight seasons.

The term is nine seasons for high-school graduates.

In order for pitchers to become free agents, those who join the league out of four-year colleges must throw at least two-thirds of the minimum number of innings required over eight seasons. The minimum number of innings equals the number of games in a season ― 133.

If a team signs a free agent, then it must meet one of the two requirements: pay two times the player’s previous salary and ship a player in compensation to the signee’s previous team, or pay that team three times the signee’s previous salary. 

(Yonhap News)
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