Saturday, November 15, 2008

KBO releases list of free agents, but vows strict rules
November 06, 2008

Former most valuable player Son Min-han and Golden Glove-winning shortstop Park Jin-man headline the list of 27 Korea Baseball Organization players eligible for free agency this winter.

The KBO released yesterday the list of would-be free agents. These players have until this Saturday to declare free agency with the KBO.

Once approved by the league on Nov. 9, they will have 10 days in which to negotiate with their original clubs. The original teams hold exclusive negotiating rights during this period.

And from Nov. 20 to Dec. 9, players who fail to reach a deal with their original teams will be able to talk with seven other clubs. 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.

In the KBO, position players become eligible for free agency if they have played in at least two-thirds of the team’s regular season games in nine seasons. Pitchers must have thrown at least two-thirds of the minimum innings required over nine seasons. The minimum number of innings equals the number of games in a season.

Son, the 2005 MVP, won 12 games for the Lotte Giants as they reached their first postseason in eight years. The Samsung Lions’ Park has 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 ($355,000).

However, because of heavy compensation packages in free agency, the players, even if they declare themselves free agents, are unlikely to hit the jackpot.

Whichever team signs a free agent must either pay the player’s original club three times his previous year’s salary and send a player, or give the team cash that amounts to 4.5 times the player’s previous annual salary.

For this offseason, the KBO has vowed to enforce free agency rules strictly. According to league rules, free agents cannot receive a raise of more than 150 percent from their previous salary and teams can only ink them to a one-year contract.

Up until last season, these rules had been virtually ignored by the teams as players signed multi-year deals with substantial raises. But this year, the KBO has said that it will impose a 50 million won fine on the violating club and suspend the guilty free agents and team officials for two years from the league.

The KBO Players’ Association said it opposes the regulations and argued the current system all but forces the KBO free agents to seek playing opportunities overseas, especially in Japan.

“Under this system, no team will be in pursuit of free agents,” said Kwon Si-hyung, secretary general of the players’ association. “They might as well just tell the players not to declare free agency and go play in Japan instead.

“We’d be better off abolishing free agency altogether,” Kwon added. “This infringes on players’ rights to choose their workplaces.”

Doosan Bears’ left-hander Lee Hei-chun is rumored to be on his way to Japan. Japanese paper Sports Nippon reported Sunday that the Yakult Swallows are interested in Lee. The Swallows already have a Korean pitcher in closer Lim Chang-yong.

Son, who is also the president of the players’ association, could also be in a Japanese uniform next season. He said his priority is with the Giants but has left the door open for a possible departure.

“If the Giants present the right offer, I’d love to stay,” he said. “But I am a professional ball player. I can’t overlook the business side of the deal.”

By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter []

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