On Monday this week, the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) announced the signing of left-handed pitcher Dana Eveland. The former member of the Baltimore Orioles in Major League Baseball (MLB) signed a one-year pact worth $300,000, which included a signing bonus of $50,000, according to the Eagles. The figure was in line with the KBO salary cap on foreign players.
It seemed like a harmless announcement, a typical offseason move by a KBO team trying to shore up its pitching staff by adding a foreign hurler with major league experience.
Then the situation became all confusing.
In an online article dated Dec. 16 Eastern Standard Time in the U.S., the Baltimore Sun also reported on Eveland's signing but with a twist.
The story, quoting an unidentified industry source, said the left-hander signed for $675,000, with another $225,000 available through performance-based incentives. It meant Eveland could potentially make $900,000 in the KBO.
Eveland made $750,000 with the Orioles in 2012.
Contrasting reports such as these have fueled years-long controversy over the salary cap on foreign players in the KBO. The debate is centered on whether the KBO should consider raising the cap or whether it needs the cap at all, at a time when teams allegedly pay their imports more money than permitted under the table.
The hard cap is currently set at $300,000, and teams are only permitted to sign foreigners to one-year deals. If they want to retain their foreign players for the following season, the salary may not be raised by more than 25 percent.
When the KBO teams were first allowed to sign foreigners in 1998, the cap was $120,000. It was raised to $200,000 in December 1999 and again to $300,000 five years later.
The Eagles claimed the Baltimore Sun report was inaccurate and maintained Eveland signed for $300,000, as the contract states.
The Eveland fiasco wasn't the first such case this year. In January, former MLB pitcher Justin Germano opted not to re-sign with the Samsung Lions, the team that he had helped win the KBO championship in 2011, and instead joined the Boston Red Sox to resume his major league career. U.S. reports then said Germano turned down a $1 million offer from the Lions to return to the majors. The Lions denied the reports.
Under the KBO rule, contracts that violate the salary cap are to be voided. But a KBO official admitted there is no particular rule that allows the league to penalize the team or the player, aside from voiding the deal.
"There is a limit to what we can do to clubs even if allegations (of salary cap violations) surface, because we're not an investigative or judicial body," the official said, on the condition of anonymity. "We basically review their contracts, but it can be difficult to track any extra money being paid to players aside from the contract."
Disillusioned baseball fans this week bombarded message boards in their online communities, with many saying teams' alleged violation of the salary cap is "the worst-kept secret" in the KBO.
They also said KBO fans aren't foolish enough to believe players with major league experience would be willing to take a huge pay cut to fly across the Pacific and play in a league largely unknown to them.
Fans also called on the league to scrap the cap rule altogether since teams aren't abiding by it anyway.
The league explained that the cap rule, honored or not, is in place to ensure some semblance of balance among teams.
"Without the cap, even more money will change hands than now," the KBO official said. "Clubs with deeper pockets will throw around money, and that will lead to the inflation of player salaries and also affect the competitive balance."
The official also pointed out other potential problems in the long term in the absence of the cap. If teams are free to hand out lucrative contracts to foreign players, he said, then they would begin to rely more heavily on experienced ex-major league or minor league players from overseas, rather than develop homegrown talent.
And with most KBO teams losing money, increased spending on foreign player signings would only put them further into the red, the official added.
An official with a KBO club, requesting anonymity, said raising the salary cap may be the more "realistic" solution than abolishing it.
"If we didn't have the cap, poorer teams may not even be able to negotiate with desirable players," the official added.
A second KBO official said team general managers met earlier this week for an offseason seminar and they all agreed to review rules guiding foreign player signings, including the salary cap, before the start of the 2013 season.
According to the official, adopting an offseason tryout camp for foreign players and having a separate draft for them were discussed as possible changes.
The Korean Basketball League (KBL) teams hold annual tryouts in the U.S. each offseason. (Yonhap News)
<관련 한글 기사>
여기선 3억, 저기선 9억? 연봉 논란!
프로야구 한화이글스가 새 외국인 선수 대나 이 브랜드(29•미국)를 영입한 뒤 외국인 선수의 몸값이 다시 도마 위에 올랐다.
한화는 17일 미국 메이저리그 볼티모어 오리올스에서 뛴 왼손 투수 이브랜드를 계약금 5만달러, 연봉 25만달러 등 총액 30만달러(약 3억2천만원)를 주는 조건으로 영입했다고 발표했다.
하지만 계약 내용에 대한 미국 언론의 보도는 달랐다.
볼티모어 지역 신문 볼티모어선은 업계 소식통의 말이라면서 이브랜드가 한화에 서 보장금액만 67만5천달러를 받고 성적에 따른 보너스로 22만5천달러를 더 가져갈 수 있어 최대 90만달러에 계약했다고 밝혔다.
한화 구단의 공식 발표와 비교해 최대 세 배에 달하는 액수다.
미국 메이저리그에서 8시즌을 뛰면서 통산 19승25패, 평균자책점 5.46을 기록한 이브랜드는 지난 시즌 볼티모어에서 75만달러를 받은 것으로 알려졌다.
한국야구위원회(KBO)의 외국인선수 고용규정을 따르면 외국인 선수의 연간 참가 활동보수는 미화 30만달러(옵션 포함, 복리후생비 제외)를 초과할 수 없다. 이 규정 덕에 그나마 외국인 선수의 몸값 급등을 막을 수 있다는 것이 KBO의 입장이다.
하지만 30만달러로 메이저리그에서 뛴 수준급 선수를 데려오기란 사실상 불가능 하다는 것이 현재 프로야구계의 일반적인 시각이다.
그래서 유명무실해진 규정의 현실화가 필요하다는 지적도 많다.
지난해 삼성에서 뛴 투수 저스틴 저마노가 보스턴 레드삭스와 계약할 때 미국에 서 '저마노가 삼성의 100만달러 제안을 거부했다'는 보도도 있었다. 당시 삼성은 '실제 제안한 금액이 아니다'라고 선을 그었다.
한화 역시 이브랜드와 관련한 미국 언론의 보도에 대해 사실이 아니라고 일축했다.