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KBO braces for flood of stars returning from MLB

Nov 16,2017
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The 2017 season wasn’t much of a success story for the Korean major leaguers. Now that three of them are free agents, it’s anyone’s guess where they’re going to end up next year. With Hwang Jae-gyun signing with the KT Wiz signed earlier this week, could this herald the return of Korea’s biggest baseball stars?

Hwang, formerly of the San Francisco Giants, signed a four-year contract at 8.8 billion won ($8 million) on Monday. Despite his disappointing major league record - a 0.154 batting average with one home run and five RBIs in 18 games - he has just signed a contract that makes him the sixth highest paid free agent in KBO history.

After the signing, MLB Trade Rumors reported, “It was reported last season that Hwang turned down much richer offers from Korean teams [including the KT Wiz] in order to test himself in MLB, and clearly he wouldn’t have found anything near a $7.9 million deal if he’d chosen to remain in North America for another season.”

As Hwang managed to bag such a large contract with a very obvious big league premium, other major leaguers may start to see the upside of returning to Korea as well.

Of the remaining players, Kim Hyun-soo is the most likely to return. In two seasons in the big leagues, Kim has played for the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite a strong rookie performance, Kim has trailed off this year with only a 0.231 batting average. Not surprisingly, he’s not getting much attention in the MLB FA market.

“I want to stay in the United States, but that’s not something I can control,” Kim said after arriving in Korea in October.

As a free agent, Kim will definitely be one of the most desirable players for KBO clubs, but it is uncertain if his former team, the Doosan Bears, will make an offer to Kim. Since one of their top outfielders, Min Byun-hun, is already in the FA market, it will be difficult for the Bears to fill two outfield positions.

Though Kim’s other option is to join a Japanese club, that is pretty unlikely, as they prefer sluggers.

Considering his age and recent performance, Oh Seung-hwan is unlikely to get a good offer from a major league club.

In 2016, Oh’s rookie season, he picked up six wins, 14 holds and 19 saves with a 1.92 ERA in 76 games. Compared to Oh’s debut season, 2017 was a big disappointment, picking up only one win, seven holds and 20 saves with a 4.10 ERA.

“I’m open to all options,” Oh said.

But there are greater barriers in Oh’s return to the KBO. If Oh does decide to return, he will have to play for the Samsung Lions as he was never technically an FA in the KBO. Oh will also face a 72-game ban for illegal gambling.

Infielder Park Byung-ho still has two years remaining in his contract with the Minnesota Twins, but once considered coming back to the KBO upon completion of the season.

Park played for the minor league affiliate of the Minnesota Twins and had a 0.253 batting average with 14 home runs.

Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers will not become FAs this season.

Choi Ji-man of the New York Yankees has been outright assigned to the minor leagues.

BY PARK SO-YOUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]