In the end, the Hanwha Eagles ran out of patience.
After finishing in last place in the Korea Baseball Organization in three straight seasons, including the past two campaigns under Venezuelan manager Carlos Subero, the Eagles decided it was time to stop rebuilding and start winning.
The front office made some big free agent acquisitions in the offseason, including star outfielder Chae Eun-seong, but it felt Subero, with his constant lineup tinkering, wasn't quite following the organization's "win-now" mode.
With the Eagles sitting in second-to-last place at 11-19-1 (wins-losses-ties) two weeks into May, despite their 4-0 win over the Samsung Lions on Thursday night, the team decided to fire Subero. The announcement came moments after that victory. The Eagles are the first KBO team to make a managerial change this season.
In comes Choi Won-ho, the Eagles' minor league manager who had steered the KBO club on an interim basis in the second half of 2020.
The timing of Subero's dismissal may seem curious to some, since the Eagles had just won two straight games and five out of their past six.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an Eagles official said the management had discussed firing Subero during their six-game losing streak, which ended May 2.
By the time the front office got the green light to make the change from the corporate ownership, the Eagles started showing signs of life. But it was already too late by then.
The official explained that Subero was "experimenting" too much with the squad, at a time when the front office was hoping the Eagles would have a more established batting order and more fixed roles for pitchers by now.
"We felt the team had to change at this particular juncture," the official added.
This was the final year of Subero's three-year contract. The Eagles contemplated letting Subero go after last season, as the team had fallen from 49 wins in 2021 to 46 wins in 2022 instead of taking steps toward respectability. They decided to give Subero another shot, believing things would be different in Year 3.
But Subero lasted only 31 games in 2023.
Over the remaining 113 games, Choi will have to make a hard push for the Eagles' first playoff appearance since 2018. Before that year, the team's previous trip to the postseason had come in 2007, a kind of futility few others in the KBO had suffered.
The Eagles are four games out of the final postseason berth.
This is clearly not the same Eagles team that Choi had run three years ago. As an interim boss then, Choi used 113 different lineups in 114 games and was free to experiment as he pleased.
That will not be tolerated this time around, with the front office now demanding more stability up and down the roster.
Choi, 50, happens to be close friends with the Eagles general manager, Son Hyuk. They grew up playing baseball against each other for rival schools, Choi was a groomsman at Son's wedding, and that's where Choi met his future wife, former golfer Han Hee-jin.
She is the cousin of Son's wife, the 2001 LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Han Hee-won.
"I'd like to thank Carlos Subero for his hard work during some difficult moments for the club," Son said Thursday night. "Choi Won-ho has been with us as interim manager before, and he knows the players really well from his time as our minor league manager. We felt he would be the right person to elevate the club to the new level."
His friendship with the GM aside, Choi's mettle will be tested right away. He will make his managerial debut Friday against the SSG Landers, the defending Korean Series champions currently in first place at 22-11. (Yonhap)