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(LEAD) Local baseball team admits to inking pitcher to illegal, multiyear deal

All Headlines 17:48 December 30, 2013

(ATTN: UPDATES with team's meeting with player, KBO's comment in final 5 paras)

SEOUL, Dec. 30 (Yonhap) -- A local professional baseball club on Monday admitted to having once signed a pitcher to an illegal, multiyear contract, potentially opening a can of worms in a league that has long faced allegations of turning a blind eye to similar practices.

The Doosan Bears in the top-flight Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) acknowledged that they had inked pitcher Lee Hei-chun to a four-year deal in December 2010, when the left-hander returned from a two-year stint in Japan.

Lee had made his KBO debut with Doosan in 1998, and pitched for the Yakult Swallows in Japan in 2009 and 2010, before coming back to the Bears.

In 2010, the Bears officially announced that they'd signed Lee for 350 million won (US$331,450) for one season, along with 600 million won in signing bonus and 150 million won in incentives. However, a team official said on Monday that Lee had actually signed for four years under the same financial terms.

Under the KBO rules, a player returning to his original team after spending time in a foreign league may only sign a one-year deal.

The violation was first leaked to the local media during the ongoing contract dispute between the Bears and Lee.

Lee was recently selected by the NC Dinos in the KBO's equivalent of Rule 5 draft, in which clubs can acquire players not currently on 40-man rosters on other teams in exchange for a transfer fee.

According to the Bears official, Lee had asked to be released this winter with one year left on his four-year deal. The Bears obliged and left him off the 40-man roster, allowing the Dinos to select him in the first round of the Rule 5 draft.

The Bears received 300 million won from the Dinos. Afterward, Lee and the Bears clashed over outstanding money on the player's contract, and according to an earlier report, Lee griped through his former teammates that the Bears had asked him to return a portion of his signing bonus if he wanted to be paid for the final year of his four-year contract.

The Bears official said the team and Lee reached a settlement in their dispute on Monday, without providing further details.

The official said the report about the team's demand for a portion of Lee's signing bonus was blown out of proportion, adding that the Bears had little choice but to offer Lee a long-term contract three years ago.

"Realistically speaking, if you want to sign players (returning from overseas), you have to accept their demands for multiyear deals," the official said.

Jeong Geum-jo, head of operations at the KBO, said the league office is prepared to review outdated rules that haven't been honored by teams.

"We plan to hold a meeting with team officials early next year on what to do with rules that teams find difficult to obey," he said. "We will look into allowing the teams to sign players returning from overseas to multiyear contracts and make revisions to other rules as we see necessary."


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