Monday, November 17, 2008

Controversy as KBO reviews Jang exchange
Lee denied that the team was dumping a star for quick cash.
November 17, 2008

Jang Won-sam
Will he or won’t he?

Korea Baseball Organization pitcher Jang Won-sam awaited his fate yesterday, as the league reviewed his trade from the Heroes to the Samsung Lions on Friday in exchange for pitcher Park Sung-hun and 3 billion won ($2.1 million) in cash. The final verdict is expected today.

After the deal was announced Friday, six clubs in the KBO other than the trade principals and the KBO players’ association voiced their displeasure. General managers of the six clubs on Friday asked the KBO to delay approving the deal.

The opposing parties argued that the trade signals the beginning of the Heroes’ dumping of star players for cash. Should the trade be completed, the 3 billion won tag would be the highest figure in a player-for-cash trade in the KBO history.

Jang, 25, has been one of the KBO’s finest left-handed starters over the past three seasons. After joining the league in 2006, he has won 33 games, including the team-high 12 in 2008.

Jang had an ERA of 2.85 in 2008 on a club that had the second-worst ERA of 4.43. The durable Jang joins the Lotte Giants’ Son Min-han and the Hanwha Eagles’ Ryu Hyun-jin as the only three pitchers to throw at least 160 innings in each of the past three seasons.

The general managers charged that when the Heroes joined the KBO before the 2008 season, the league required that the Heroes could not trade players for cash for the first five seasons, so that they wouldn’t walk the same path as another cash-strapped franchise from the past.

In the late 1990s, the Ssangbangwool Raiders dumped their key players for billions of won to help cover their costs, before the SK Wyverns eventually took them over in 2000.

However, the KBO said the “no trade for cash” clause was verbally discussed but was never documented. Its chief spokesman Lee Jin-hyung said, “Nothing was set in stone. The teams reserve the rights to conduct trades among themselves.”

The Heroes lost their main sponsor, Woori Tobacco, in the middle of the season and haven’t received sponsorship money since August. Lee Jang-seok, president of the Heroes, acknowledged that the team does need money but denied the Jang trade was the outright dumping of a star for quick cash.

“If we were desperate for money, we would’ve traded Jang a long time ago,” Lee said. “We fielded about 10 offers for Jang during the season and we mulled over the Samsung deal for a month. The 3 billion won will be used for players’ salaries.”

The Lions’ GM Kim Jae-ha said acquiring a pitcher of Jang’s caliber would have cost more money via free agency than trade.

“I know the critics would say we flaunted our wealth to get a player but we showed that trading for a player could be more effective than signing free agents,” Kim said. “This is a win-win proposition for both teams. We have a young, talented left-handed starting pitcher, and the Heroes have some cash.”

The Heroes’ manager Kim Si-jin, who replaced Lee Gwang-hwan after the 2008 season, said it was tough bidding farewell to his prized pupil but he understands the situation that the team ownership is facing.

Kim previously managed Jang at the Hyundai Unicorns, who went under in 2007 after years of financial difficulties, and were replaced by the Heroes before the 2008 season.

“It’s really difficult seeing him go, especially because I was with him from the beginning,” Kim said. “But this is reality. The ownership promised they would not trade any more players for cash and I’ve got to believe them.”

The Heroes went 50-76 in their inaugural season to finish seventh but had a more tumultuous year off the field. The team missed the June 30 deadline for the first installment of their league expansion fees and played hardball with the KBO before ponying up the money a week later.

In the process, Woori Tobacco, who lent its name to the Heroes in a three-year, 30 billion won contract before the season, severed its ties with the team and asked them to drop the “Woori” from the club’s name.

The next deadline for the league expansion fees is Dec. 31.

By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter []

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