Friday, November 21, 2008

Doosan’s Lee eyes Japan; free agents drive hard bargains
November 20, 2008
Contrary to popular belief, the controversy surrounding the Jang Won-sam trade isn’t the only issue brewing in the KBO offseason.

One pitcher appears close to joining a Japanese team, and another one could leave the only team he’s ever played for via free agency. And two teams retained their free agents for the next season.

Lee to Japan

The Doosan Bears left-hander Lee Hei-chun left for Japan yesterday, on the verge of reaching a deal with a club in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. The 29-year-old has been linked with the Yomiuri Giants and the Yakult Swallows, both based in Tokyo, in the offseason so far.

Then yesterday, the Japanese paper Sports Hochi reported the Swallows’ interest in Lee. Quoting a high-ranking Swallows executive, the story said Lee “could become a savior on the Yakult team, which lacks left-handed pitchers.”

Before boarding his plane, Lee told reporters that he’d like to join a team “that will give me the opportunity to play.”

“I’ve pitched in different roles and I’d rather start than pitch out of the bullpen,” Lee said. “I’ve wanted to play in Japan all year long. Fortunately, I must have pitched well whenever Japanese scouts were in stands.”

The Swallows already have a Korean player in the closer Lim Chang-yong, who joined them before the 2008 season.

Lee said once he signs with a Japanese team, “I won’t be back until I reach the top level in Japan.”

The hard-throwing lefty debuted with the Bears in 1998 and has gone 53-40 with six saves and a 4.16 ERA. Lee is looking to become the 10th Korean to join the Japanese league.

Will Son return?

Right-handed pitcher Son Min-han is a Lotte Giants lifer, having pitched for them for the past dozen seasons.

And there’s a possibility that he may have pitched his last game for the team.

Son, a free agent this year, and the Giants failed to come to an agreement on a new contract. And over the next 15 days, the 33-year-old is free to negotiate with clubs other than the Giants.

Son asked for but didn’t get a four-year deal worth more than the 4 billion won ($2.8 million) that right-hander Park Myung-hwan received from the LG Twins two years ago. That contract, which included a signing bonus and performance-based incentives, remains the most lucrative deal ever for a pitcher.

The Giants’ General Manager Lee Sang-goo said his team still wants to retain Son. Free agents have until Dec. 9 to talk with seven teams other than their original club. If that doesn’t result in a new deal, then the players will negotiate with all eight teams from Dec. 10 to Jan. 15 next year.

Players not signed by Jan. 15 will be banned from playing in the KBO during the 2009 season.

“Son himself said he’d prefer to remain with us,” Lee said. “We’ll try to bring him back during our next negotiation period.”

Son has gone 97-67 with 12 saves and a 3.38 ERA. In 2005, he won the KBO’s most valuable player award after leading the league with 18 wins and a 2.46 ERA.

Staying home

While the Samsung Lions weren’t busy dealing with the Jang Won-sam fiasco, they were negotiating with their free agent shortstop Park Jin-man.

And the Lions announced yesterday that they inked Park to a 600 million won contract extension, along with another 600 million won signing bonus. Free agents aren’t permitted to sign a multi-year deal.

Park, 31, is considered the league’s best defensive shortstop, having won five Golden Gloves for his defensive excellence. He joined the Lions with a lucrative free agent contract in 2005 and was one of the league’s highest-paid players in 2008 with 450 million won.

“I’m glad the negotiations went smoothly,” Park said through a team statement. “They gave me the impression that they really needed me back and I was willing to stay. I’d like to help the team win championships.”

Meanwhile, the LG Twins retained all three of their free agents this offseason.

The team announced yesterday that they have re-signed infielders Choi Dong-soo and Lee Jong-yeol and pitcher Choi Won-ho.

Choi Dong-soo, who earned 120 million won last season, got a 30 million won raise plus a 100 million won signing bonus. Lee signed for 170 million won, the same amount as last season. Choi Won-ho also had his wage frozen at 200 million won.

Choi Dong-soo, 38, was one of the Twins’ few bright spots in 2008. He led the team with 14 home runs and 62 runs batted in.

By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter []

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