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(LEAD) Baseball free agents switch teams, stay put in whirlwind of offseason activities

All Headlines 15:37 November 19, 2012

(ATTN: UPDATES with Hong Sung-heon's signing; RESTRUCTURES)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 19 (Yonhap) -- Following a frenzy of weekend activities and a surprise signing Monday, all 11 free agents in South Korea's top baseball league now have teams to play for in 2013.

Hong Sung-heon, a 35-year-old designated hitter, on Monday reached a four-year deal with the Doosan Bears, where he began his career in 1999. The deal is worth 3.1 billion won (US$2.9 million), including salary and signing bonus, but further details of the deal were not disclosed.

Hong, who had been with the Lotte Giants since 2009, was the last among free agents to sign a contract this offseason. He couldn't come to terms with the Giants last week; Hong had reportedly demanded a four-year deal and 3.4 billion won in guaranteed money, while the Giants had offered a three-year contract worth 2.5 billion won.

Under the league rules, the free agents were allowed to negotiate with their current teams between Nov. 10 and 16. Those who failed then became free to talk to other teams from Nov. 17 to 23.

Hong batted .292 with 15 home runs and 74 RBIs this year. He started out his career as a power-hitting catcher, and had a short and error-laden stint in outfield after joining the Giants in 2009. He has been a full-time DH since. He made 400 million won last season.

The Busan-based Giants lost another free agent before Hong this winter. Outfielder Kim Joo-chan joined the Kia Tigers Sunday on a four-year deal, with 500 million won in annual salary and 2.6 billion won in signing bonus.

The Tigers might have overpaid for a career .279 hitter who provides some speed on base path -- an average of 35 steals a season since 2007 -- but little else, though they showed they mean business for next season.

Kim was one of four players to switch teams during free agency.

The NC Dinos, an expansion team set to join the KBO in 2013, grabbed two of them. Lee Ho-joon, the DH for the SK Wyverns in 2012, signed for three years worth 2 billion won on Saturday, including a signing bonus. Lee became the first free agent signee ever for the Dinos, which played in the minors this year and will join the KBO next year.

Lee ended his 12-year career with the Wyverns, which won three league championships during his tenure. The 36-year-old batted .300 with 18 homers in 2012.

The Dinos also signed infielder Lee Hyun-gon from the Tigers on Sunday. A 2007 KBO batting champion, Lee has since faded badly and has spent time in the minors. The Dinos said they acquired the 32-year-old for his experience and his ability to play multiple infield positions.

The LG Twins added bullpen depth on Saturday by inking the hard-throwing right-hander Jong Hyun-wook to a four-year deal, worth 2.86 billion won including options and signing bonus.

The 33-year-old has spent his entire 12-year career with the Samsung Lions. He appeared in 54 games this year and posted an ERA of 3.16 in 62 2/3 innings, striking out 48.

The Twins also re-signed two of their own free agents, retaining outfielder Lee Jin-young and third baseman Jeong Seong-hoon with identical, four-year, 3.4-billion won deals.

To be eligible for free agency in the KBO, position players who graduated from four-year universities must have played in at least two-thirds of the team's regular-season games for eight seasons. The term is nine seasons for high school graduates.

In order for pitchers to become free agents, those who join the league out of four-year colleges must throw at least two-thirds of the minimum number of innings required over eight seasons. The minimum number of innings equals the number of games in a season, 133.

If a team signs a free agent, then it must meet one of the two requirements: pay two times the player's previous salary and ship a player in compensation to the signee's previous team, or pay that team three times the signee's previous salary.

Such stiff requirements have been cited as reasons for relative lack of activities during offseasons.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
(END)

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