Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul (Yonhap)
The offseason for non-playoff teams in South Korean baseball is barely under way, and one of those five teams caught outside looking in has let go of its manager.
Will other clubs follow suit? Given the contract situations for the remaining skippers, it doesn't seem likely at the moment.
The Kia Tigers, which finished ninth among 10 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) clubs at 58-76-10 (wins-losses-ties), mutually agreed to part ways with Matt Williams on Monday. The American skipper had one year left on his contract, but after missing the postseason in his first two years, he was shown the door.
The SSG Landers, the NC Dinos, the Lotte Giants and the Hanwha Eagles are the other non-playoff clubs, but all of their current managers are under contract for at least another season.
The Landers' Kim Won-hyong managed the club to sixth place in his first year, despite losing three starting pitchers to injuries in the first half of the season. They only missed the final playoff spot by a half game, leaving many to wonder what could have been if the Landers had their pitching staff intact. Kim's two-year deal runs through 2022.
The Dinos went from winning their first Korean Series in 2020 to missing the postseason in 2021. But in May this year, their manager Lee Dong-wook signed a three-year extension that kicks in next season.
The Dinos became the first defending champions in 11 years to miss the playoffs, but there were extenuating circumstances. Four key players, including starting second baseman Park Min-woo and third baseman Park Sok-min, were suspended for the entire second half of the season after violating COVID-19 protocols. They were still in a playoff battle at that point but ended up two games out of the final berth.
The Giants fired Her Mun-hoe in May and replaced him with their minor league manager Larry Sutton, who guided the club to a .500 record the rest of the way at 53-53-8. He is signed through 2022.
The perpetually rebuilding Eagles finished last under first-year boss Carlos Subero, who is under contract through 2023.
With Williams gone, the Tigers also saw their general manager Cho Kye-hyeon resign. Among other non-playoff clubs, only the Dinos have a vacancy at the GM position.
Job security for field managers in the KBO can be hard to predict, regardless of their contract situation, because of a unique dynamic between the front office and the corporate owners.
A season that the front office may consider good enough may not be viewed in the same light by the executives at the parent company who oversee financial decisions.
The Tigers, for instance, dealt with injuries and the unexpected loss of ace Aaron Brooks, after the national customs officials found traces of marijuana in vape products he had ordered online in August. With one year still left on Williams' contract and the Tigers about to bring back star left-hander Yang Hyeon-jong after his cup of coffee with the Texas Rangers this year, the front office may have been tempted to give the American manager another shot.
But a ninth-place finish is a ninth-place finish for the corporate types who may not have their fingers on the pulse of baseball operations but who also may not want to pay the manager after such a down year. (Yonhap)