Kia Tigers' manager Kim Jong-kook poses for photos during his inauguration ceremony in Gwangju, some 330 kilometers south of Seoul, on Thursday. (Yonhap)
After winning their 11th Korean Series title in 2017, the Kia Tigers snuck into the postseason in 2018 and then missed the party in each of the next three years.
And their new manager, Kim Jong-kook, said Thursday he will look to end the drought in 2022.
"We have improved our squad with some aggressive investments in the offseason, and I will make sure these efforts will not go to waste," Kim said at his inaugural press conference in Gwangju, the home city of the Tigers located some 330 kilometers south of Seoul. "I will try to lead the team to the postseason this year and bring joy to our fans."
Kim, 48, was promoted from the Tigers' base running coach to their manager on Dec. 5 last year, and signed a three-year deal worth 1.05 billion won ($874,940). He will make 750 million won in total salary and received 300 million won in signing bonus.
Kim has spent his entire playing and coaching career in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) with the Tigers -- as a light-hitting but speedy infielder from 1996 to 2009, and then as a coach in various roles from 2010 to 2021.
"We have to go back to square one and strengthen our fundamentals," Kim said. "I believe my job is to lay the groundwork to help us become a perennial contender."
Kim's internal promotion was a key part of an offseason makeover for the Tigers. After missing the postseason in 2020 and 2021 with Matt Williams in charge, the Tigers parted with the American skipper, who still had one year left on his three-year deal. Team CEO Lee Hwa-won and general manager Cho Kye-hyeon also resigned.
Former Kiwoom Heroes manager Jang Jung-suk was brought in as the new general manager on Nov. 24, and Kim was named the new bench boss soon afterward.
The new faces are tasked with restoring pride for a franchise that has won 11 Korean Series championships, more than any other team in KBO history.
The Tigers also made a huge splash in free agency, inking All-Star outfielder Na Sung-bum to a six-year, 15 billion-won ($12.5 million) contract on Dec. 23. It is tied for the largest free agent contract ever in KBO history.
The Tigers also brought back their franchise icon Yang Hyeon-jong on a four-year, 10.3 billion-won deal. Yang pitched for the Tigers from 2007 to 2020 before a largely unsuccessful stint with the Texas Rangers last year.
Kim said he will rely on his communication skills to bring all the players together, veterans and newcomers alike.
"I will have them play without fear," the manager said. "I will focus on setting the right tone within the team and giving my players a sense of direction."
Kim said he has spent so much time with the Tigers that he knows what makes most players tick. That can work to his advantage both on and off the field as he transitions from a coach to a manager, Kim added.
"It's going to be difficult for me to be too hard on the players at times," Kim said. "But I will try to give them some tough love when necessary. Mostly, though, I will try to be a brotherly figure to them."
Kim said he will encourage competition at most positions. Na and another newly-signed outfielder, Socrates Brito, are the two locks among position players, and Kim listed catcher, first base, shortstop, third base and left field as positions up for grabs.
On the pitching front, the Tigers have Yang and a career US minor leaguer Ronnie Williams in the rotation. They will sign another foreign pitcher, Kim said.
"With Yang and our two new foreign starters, our rotation should be pretty solid," the manager said. "We have some talented players up and down our roster, and they will be productive as long as they can stay healthy." (Yonhap)