Woori Sell-off Plot Foiled
Very interesting situation went down over the past week in the KBO. It mostly happened while I was in Japan so I thought I’d wait until it was resolved to check in with a report. Last weekend our friends at Woori dumped Jang Won-sam, a young-ish lefty (26) coming off a breakthrough season that established him as one of the better young arms in Korea.
The “trade” was consummated with Samsung, who in return gave Woori a low level player and about $2 million in cash. This was a sell-off, a great “trade” for Samsung, but each of the six teams not participating in the trade balked (although some reports say Hanwha was on the fence), and so the trade was sent to the commissioners office.
After three apparently difficult meetings, on Friday afternoon man-in-charge Shin Sang-woo said “nay,” disallowing the trade and returning Jang to the Heroes.
When the Centennial ownership group took over the franchise last year it agreed to not, well, do exactly what it tried to do — sell off players. Jee-ho wrote a scathing column last week criticizing the commissioner for even hesitating to rule against the trade.
I agree. This trade was ugly. With Jang (who got a military exemption this past summer by helping Korea win the baseball gold medal in Beijing), fellow lefty Ma Il-yeong, and Kim Su-kyeong, Woori has the makings of an excellent rotation. I’d go so far as to call it the second or third best rotation in the league.
In a way I feel sorry for Commissioner Shin, who will reportedly resign prior to his term ending next spring. He deserves some credit for stopping the Heroes/Unicorns franchise from folding and keeping the league at eight teams. Centennial has been a royal pain the ass from the beginning. Good luck getting that $2 million back Samsung. My guess is it’s already been used for last year’s buffet table and cleats.
It took a full seven days for the Korea Baseball Organization to nullify the disputed trade that saw pitcher Jang Won-sam move from the Heroes to the Samsung Lions in exchange for another pitcher, Park Sung-hun, and 3 billion won ($2 million). The announcement came last Friday.
Commissioner Shin Sang-woo ruled that the trade principals had violated the league-wide agreement that prevents the Heroes from making trades for cash without KBO permission for the first five years of their existence. The Heroes replaced the cash-strapped Hyundai Unicorns before the 2008 season.
This is the first trade to be voided by the KBO since the league launched in 1982. Jang and Park, who had both switched teams, will now have to return to their previous clubs. The 3 billion won, which would have been the highest figure ever in a player-for-cash trade, will also have to be handed back to the Lions.
The Lions issued a short statement saying, “We respect and fully accept the KBO’s decision to nullify our trade.” The Heroes’ president Lee Jang-seok, however, said he was “taken aback” by the ruling but added he has “no choice but to accept the decision.”
In the opposite camp, Doosan Bears’ General Manager Kim Seung-young said Shin had made a “right and wise decision.” Kim, who had been a vocal opponent of the deal, said the teams must work together to rebuild trust.
While the clubs engaged in accusatory spats - the Heroes argued teams other than the Lions offered cash for trades and the six teams charged the two teams breached their trust - the players involved were odd men out.
Jang, 25, said he was bracing himself for different possibilities and the cancellation of the trade didn’t surprise him much.
“I’ve learned that professional baseball is really business,” he said from the Lions’ training camp in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang.
“I’ve got to grow stronger as a person and a player. It’s probably going to be awkward joining the Heroes again but I am sure my old teammates and coaches will welcome me back.”
Park, 26, had been a little known pitcher who has pitched only 15 2/3 innings over his two-year career but he suddenly became a minor celebrity in the Heroes’ camp on Jeju Island.
The left-hander said he was “just getting used to the new team” but he too faces the uncomfortable prospect of returning to the Lions.
Park said he learned how to throw changeup from the Heroes’ manager Kim Si-jin and pitching coach Chung Min-tae, both stellar pitchers in their playing careers.
Park made such a huge impression on the Heroes that the bench coach Lee Gwang-geun said, “While we’re at it, we’ve got to find another way to acquire Park.”
In making the players switch teams, the Heroes and the Lions violated a KBO rule. Players cannot join teams to which they are dealt for any baseball activity, be it practices or games, until the KBO commissioner gives the final go-ahead.
But for the Heroes, the damage stemming from this saga wasn’t only to their image: it’s more concrete than that.
The team president Lee acknowledged that he tried to deal Jang to help resolve financial problems and now the Heroes are strapped for cash for the upcoming season.
The Heroes missed the June 30 deadline this year for the first installment of their league expansion fees. They are to pay a total of 12 billion won in expansion fees over two years and 2.4 billion won was due in June.
The Heroes played hardball with the KBO before shelling out the money a week later. After the PR disaster, the Heroes lost their main sponsor, Woori Tobacco, who lent its name to the Heroes in a three-year, 30 billion won contract before the season, but severed its ties with the team in mid-season.
The Heroes claim Woori Tobacco failed to pay them 2.8 billion won in sponsorship fees and are planning to sue the tobacco company. The Heroes are due to pay 2.4 billion won in the second installment of the league expansion fees by Dec. 31 and Lee says the team has secured that money. They have yet to find a sponsor for next season.
Commissioner Shin, who had come under fire for his indecisiveness, may not be around by Dec. 31. His term ends in March next year but he announced on Friday that he will step down before that.
But Shin, 71, denied his decision had anything to do with the trade episode.
“I’d already made up my mind that my time had run out after the Korean Series,” he said.
“I will stick around for the Golden Glove Awards on Dec. 11 and pick my date afterward.”
By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter/ Kim Seek JoongAng Ilbo [email@example.com]