By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Nov. 6 (Yonhap) -- The Samsung Lions, the reigning South Korean baseball champions, have announced that they will let their free-agent-to-be closer Oh Seung-hwan test foreign waters this offseason.
The Lions made the announcement late Tuesday, four days after they claimed their third straight Korean Series championship in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).
Their decision will allow the right-hander to be posted for an auction among interested Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs, or to negotiate and sign with a Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) club in Japan on a loan deal, the kind of which is often seen in football.
After completing his equivalent of eight full seasons in the league, Oh, at 31 and already the KBO's all-time saves leader with 277, is eligible for conditional free agency this winter.
Such a free agent can sign with any KBO team he wishes, but needs his team's approval to play in a foreign league.
Now that Oh has received the go-ahead to test foreign markets, he must not exercise his right to join a KBO team.
In order for pitchers to become free agents in the KBO, those who come to the league out of four-year colleges, like Oh, must throw at least two-thirds of the minimum number of innings required over eight seasons. The requirement is nine years for those who joined the league out of high school.
The minimum number of innings equals the number of games in a season. The KBO teams each played 128 games in 2013.
Oh joined the Lions in 2005 and he completed his ninth season in 2013. He only pitched 14 innings in his injury-plagued 2010 season, which didn't count as a full season under the free agency rule.
KBO players can also try to sign with foreign clubs after completing seven full seasons here, as long as their teams give the green light. After the 2012 season, Oh had met the eligibility requirement, but the Lions refused to let him walk, on the grounds that they needed their closer to contend for another title.
Last year, left-handed pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers via posting after his KBO team, the Hanwha Eagles, allowed him to leave after seven seasons in South Korea.
Now that the Lions have won another championship, they have finally decided to grant their dominant closer his wish.
Since his debut in 2005, Oh has been a pillar of the Lions' vaunted bullpen, helping them win five championships. He was voted the Korean Series MVP in 2005 and 2011, and holds the all-time postseason saves record with 13.
The hard-throwing right-hander also possesses the league's single-season saves record with 47, which he set in 2006 and matched in 2011.
In 510 1/3 career innings, Oh has fanned 625 batters while walking 120. He has a career ERA of 1.69, and a win-loss record of 28-13.
He led the KBO in saves in five different seasons, more than any other closer.
Oh has represented South Korea at the World Baseball Classic in 2006, 2009 and 2013, the Asian Games in 2006 and the Olympic Games in 2008.
He mostly relies on his heavy fastball, which has a late life and can reach 157 kilometers per hour (97 miles per hour). He throws an occasional slider and curve.
For most of 2013, Oh's destination for next season had been a subject of intense media speculation. Samsung's games often drew several MLB and NPB scouts but they sometimes left the stadium without having seen Oh pitch, because he would only enter games in save situations.
Should Oh be posted, an MLB team with the highest bid in the auction will win the right to negotiate with him for 30 days. If Oh signs, the Lions will pocket the bid money.
If Oh inks a deal with an NBP team, the Lions will receive a transfer fee because Oh is not an unrestricted free agent and required the Lions' approval to leave the KBO.
According to Oh's agent, Kim Dong-wook, the Lions' decision will speed up the player's pursuit of his dreams of pitching overseas.
"Without Samsung's approval, we haven't had concrete offers," Kim said. "From now on, we will be seeking to contact teams that are interested in Oh Seung-hwan."
Kim added that the decision on whether to play in MLB or NPB could be reached by the end of November.
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