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Nippert and Hacker struggle to find new clubs

Dec 27,2017
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Dustin Nippert
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Eric Hacker
While the teams of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) are finalizing contracts with their foreign players, the league’s two top American pitchers - Dustin Nippert and Eric Hacker - still haven’t been picked up by any clubs.

The four clubs that have a spot open for a foreign pitcher are more interested in finding new talent than offering big bucks for Nippert and Hacker. Nippert, 36, who made his KBO debut in 2011, has racked up double-digit wins every season other than 2015.

His 2016 season was his best ever, as he had 22 wins, the most in the league, the highest winning percentage at 0.88 and the lowest earned-run average (ERA) in the KBO, and picked up the MVP award.

Nippert still holds the record for the highest number of career wins by a foreign pitcher in the KBO at 94, but his 2017 season was far from his best. He had 14 wins and an ERA of 4.06.

Hacker, 34, made his KBO debut with the NC Dinos in 2013, and only picked up 12 wins over the course of his first two seasons in the KBO. His 19 wins in the 2015 season, though, topped the league, and Hacker was awarded the Golden Glove Award, becoming only the fourth foreigner ever to win the award.

Continuing his success, Hacker picked up 12 wins in the last regular season. Hacker then helped the Dinos in the playoffs by picking up a win against the Lotte Giants.

Despite the pairs’ success in the KBO, as Nippert and Hacker are both in their mid-30s and expect large contracts, clubs are looking to the future. After finishing the 2016 season, Nippert re-signed with the Doosan Bears at $2.1 million for the 2017 season, becoming the first foreign player to exceed $2 million. Due to Nippert’s expensive contract last year, KBO clubs are now required to sign him for at least $1.5 million.

Hacker’s contract was lower than Nippert’s, at $1 million. Though the contract is within reach for some clubs, they are still hesitant, as they can sign younger pitchers for lower contracts.

The SK Wyverns signed Angel Sanchez, 28, at $1.1 million and the Samsung Lions spent $1.05 million signing Tim Adleman, 30. Though the clubs are spending additional money on the two players’ buyout costs, they are considered pitchers that can change the team’s environment and have the potential to improve.

In addition to their age, Nippert and Hacker’s history of injuries is also a cause for concern. During the 2017 season, Hacker was off the Dinos’ roster for 58 days due to an elbow injury. Nippert had a rough season in 2015, as he suffered from shoulder, thigh and back injuries. The two players, though, didn’t have many issues with injuries in the 2017 season.

Considering their age, it won’t be a surprise if Nippert and Hacker are affected by injuries next season, adding to the list of reasons why clubs are reluctant to acquire them.

BY BAE JUNG-HYUNE [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]