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KBO clubs set to open overseas training camps this week

All Headlines 09:42 January 14, 2014

SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- All nine clubs in the top South Korean baseball league will begin their overseas training camps this week, starting their offseason preparation in earnest.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) clubs will all leave the country on Wednesday and spend around 50 days in warmer regions before returning home in early March.

Away from the biting winter in South Korea, the three-time defending champs Samsung Lions, along with pitchers and catchers of the Kia Tigers, will set up their camps on the Pacific island of Guam. The Lotte Giants' pitching staff will also be training in the Pacific, on the neighboring island of Saipan.

The Giants' position players will be among those flying across the ocean to the United States. They will be joined by the LG Twins, the Nexen Heroes and the NC Dinos in Arizona. The Doosan Bears' pitchers and catchers, along with three foreign players, will also report to the camp in the Grand Canyon State.

One other team, the SK Wyverns, will train in Florida.

The rest of the Bears will be in Miyazaki, Japan, while position players of the Tigers and the entire Hanwha Eagles will be in Okinawa, also in Japan.

Teams that start off in Arizona or Florida will move to Japan or Taiwan in mid-February for the second half of their training. They will face Japanese or fellow South Korean clubs in practice games, too.

In a major offseason change, the KBO has added one extra roster spot for foreign players starting in 2014. Teams can now carry up to three players from overseas, and the cap is four for the expansion Dinos for 2014. All nine teams must sign at least one position player to fill up their quota.

All imports in the KBO the past two seasons have been pitchers, and the addition of new bats is expected to affect the dynamics of the league. Luke Scott, who signed with the Wyverns, and Jorge Cantu, a new member of the Bears, are among the high-profile signees this winter. They each have more than 100 career home runs in Major League Baseball (MLB).

The Lions, with three consecutive titles in the bag, will be the team to beat again. The 1986-1989 Haitai (now Kia) Tigers remain the only KBO club to ever win four straight championships, and the Lions will be in for a tough fight to match that feat.

Over the winter, they've lost their closer Oh Seung-hwan, the league's all-time leader in saves, via free agency, as the right-hander signed with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. Also, Samsung's leadoff man, Bae Young-seob, has been conscripted into mandatory military service.

Their manager, Ryu Joong-il, has declared that the 2014 season will be one of many changes for his team, hinting that a rebuilding process may begin.

After winning three championships in his first three years on the job, Ryu re-signed for three more seasons with Samsung. More than half of the KBO's managers, though, don't quite have the same level of job security.

Five managers are entering the final years of their contracts: Kim Euong-yong of the Eagles, Sun Dong-yol of the Tigers, Kim Kyung-moon of the Dinos, Lee Man-soo of the Wyverns and Kim Ki-tae of the Twins.

Of these five, only the Twins' Kim made the postseason in 2013. The Dinos' Kim may be on a longer leash than others because the Dinos finished seventh among nine teams in their inaugural season in 2013, generally exceeding expectations.

The two teams that had worse records than the Dinos were the Tigers and the Eagles. The Tigers were the trendy preseason pick to go deep in the postseason but, decimated by injuries, they stumbled through the second half and ended in eighth. Sun, one of the greatest KBO pitchers ever, won two championships as a manager with Samsung in 2005 and 2006. He will have to come close to matching that if he is to keep his current job.

The Eagles brought the 72-year-old Kim out of retirement, but the manager who has won a record 10 championships couldn't guide the Eagles out of the league cellar. He may be forced back into retirement if the Eagles fail to right the ship in 2014.

Lee's SK slipped from second in 2012 to sixth in 2013, 9.5 games out of postseason. That snapped the Wyverns' record streak of six straight Korean Series appearances, and the former All-Star catcher will be in the hot seat if his team doesn't return to the playoffs this year.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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