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S. Korean pitcher pursued by MLB calls off talks with current team

SEOUL, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) -- Free agent baseball pitcher Chong Tae-hyon on Thursday called off salary negotiations with his original South Korean team to seek a career in Major League Baseball (MLB), a day after the MLB checked his availability this offseason.

The right-hander had until this Saturday to negotiate with the SK Wyverns in Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) for a possible re-signing, after declaring free agency last week. But Chong said Thursday he wanted to test the MLB market.

"I've long wanted to pitch in the majors and I want to find out if I can compete there," he said. "I made the decision on Tuesday after discussions with my family. I felt this would be my last opportunity."

On Wednesday, the MLB asked the KBO for Chong's availability, a formal step for an overseas league before a team or teams pursue desirable players. Of 17 KBO free agents this offseason, Chong was the first to be approached by the majors.

"I don't know which major league team is interested but I want to get this done as soon as possible and focus on my training,"Chong said. "I will get myself into top shape and tackle the challenge in the big leagues."

In response to Chong's decision, the Wyverns' official said they will fully support the pitcher's next career move.

Chong can speak with any team other than the Wyverns between Nov. 20 and Dec. 9. If he can't reach a deal, then he will have the final chance to sign with any team, including the Wyverns, between Dec. 10 and Jan. 15 next year.

Players not signed by Jan. 15 will be ineligible to play in the KBO next season.

A right-hander with a submarine delivery, Chong has been a key part of the Wyverns' bullpen that helped the team claim KBO titles in 2007, 2008 and 2010. Chong is not a fireballer but has had good command of his off-speed pitches.

In 11 KBO seasons, he has a 32-22 win-loss record with 99 saves in 477 games, with an earned run average (ERA) of 1.93 in 569 innings.

Chong has also excelled in international tournaments. He was on South Korea's bronze medal-winning team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics as a college student. He induced the gold medal-clinching double play against Cuba at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and also pitched for South Korea when it finished as runner-up at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

There have been 12 South Korean major leaguers. Chong is seeking to become the first to jump straight from the KBO to the majors.

Currently, Choo Shin-soo, an outfielder for the Cleveland Indians, is the only South Korean in the majors.