By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, March 25 (Yonhap) -- Former major league outfielder Felix Pie got the short end of the stick in his contract talks with the Hanwha Eagles in South Korea last winter, his agent claims, adding that the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club negotiated in "bad faith" with his client.
It's a charge soundly rejected by the Eagles, which say they did everything they could with Pie, and it was only a case of the two sides' being unable to come to an agreement.
Prior to joining the Eagles, Pie spent six seasons in the majors for three clubs, batting .246 with 17 homers and 99 RBIs in 425 games. In his first season with the Eagles in 2014, Pie batted .326 with 17 homers and a team-high 92 RBIs.
Despite Pie's production, the Eagles ranked last in the league for the third straight season.
According to Josh Yates, the player's agent, the Eagles made Pie an offer for his second season in the KBO and then pulled it off the table a few days after Pie had accepted it. The Eagles, on the other hand, say they gave Pie a reasonable offer and plenty of time for him to review it, and claim the player didn't make a decision fast enough.
Yonhap News Agency obtained a series of emails exchanged between Yates and an Eagles' official who handles foreign players' negotiations.
On Oct. 15, Yates wrote to the official that Pie had told the agent about the two-year offer on the table.
Then on Nov. 6, the official told Yates that he "would have to wait for the new manager (Kim Sung-keun)" to make a decision on Pie. Kim was named the team's manager in October.
As of Nov. 13, the team official was still waiting for Kim's decision, according to his email to Yates.
Four days later, the official sent an attachment of a one-year offer to Yates, saying Kim Sung-keun "does not allow multiyear contracts for foreign players."
After Yates expressed his and Pie's disappointment over the offer, the official told them on Nov. 27 that he'd been trying to speak to the management to get "respectful numbers" for the player and asked Yates "for more time to give you the best offer."
On the following day, the official presented Yates with a "one plus one" offer, with the guaranteed first season and a club option for the second season based on performance. The official noted that it was as good as a two-year offer because Pie only had to "meet 50 percent of the performance incentives for the 2015 season."
Yates claimed that the official couldn't be reached for a while after making that offer, despite repeated assurances that he would be in touch. Finally on Dec. 8, Yates informed the official via email that Pie had decided to accept the offer.
After that, the official responded to Yates, saying manager Kim Sung-keun decided against retaining Pie, citing concerns about his iffy shoulder.
"They made a point of dragging the negotiations," Yates told Yonhap in a phone interview. "I felt we were negotiating in good faith. I wanted to trust them and hopefully get a deal done. All of a sudden, when we accepted the offer, they pulled the plug on it. I was furious, to say the least. It was clear to me that the team didn't care about leaving Felix high and dry."
The official in question didn't return multiple phone calls and also text and email messages seeking comment.
One senior official in the Eagles front office rejected Yates' charges that the team negotiated in bad faith with Pie, saying the two sides simply couldn't reach an agreement.
"We did everything we could with Pie," the senior official said. "And we couldn't afford to sit around and wait for him while other foreign players were being snatched up by other teams."
Though he didn't recall a specific date, the official said there was a deadline for Pie to accept the offer and the player didn't honor it.
"We talked to him for about a month and a half or two months following the end of the season," he added. "We offered him what we could and he didn't take it. If he had signed with some other team in the United States, he wouldn't be saying these things about our team."
In an email to Yonhap, Yates claimed, "If there was a deadline, they never told me or warned me about it."
Though the Eagles blamed Pie's camp for stalling in negotiations, Yates said his client was the victim.
"There was a very good chance that, if they wouldn't have dragged this out so long, we would have had a chance to sign with another team," Yates said.
Asked about the Eagles' initial two-year offer to Pie, the senior team official said: "I've never heard about such an offer. I don't know where that came from."
Despite an earlier claim that Kim Sung-keun, the manager, doesn't allow multiyear deals for foreign players, Yates said the Eagles approached him about another KBO client of his from overseas with a two-year offer. This offer was made on Dec. 2, two weeks after the Eagles' official handling talks with foreign players informed Yates about Kim's policy on foreign player contracts.
Yates also said the Eagles showed interest in the other foreign player when he'd already agreed to sign with a different KBO club.
"I said, 'You told me your manager doesn't do two-year deals with foreign players, and yet you gave me a two-year deal (for my other player) after he became a free agent,'" Yates said. "And he said, 'Let's focus on him right now and then we'll get Felix done.' I knew something was up at that point. I didn't like that at all. I didn't feel comfortable with what was going on."
One senior official of the team said he didn't believe the manager Kim had gotten involved in any way with the team's contract talks with Pie.
Another senior official, however, said Kim "has the final say" in foreign player acquisitions, pointing out that managers for other clubs do the same thing.
As for contracts with foreign players, the official said the manager and the front office discuss individual cases to determine the length of their contract, though teams "don't usually sign foreign players to multiyear deals."
In emails sent to Yates, the official handling foreign player negotiations made references to Kim Sung-keun's involvement in contract talks.
In a message informing Yates that the Eagles would try to retain Pie, the official wrote: "I want you guys to understand this awkward situation that the field manager (Kim) takes care of the conditions of the contract. He's got all decision power regarding players ... Thus he engages deeply in the contract (talks) with Pie now."
In a later message telling Yates that the deal was off, the official wrote: "(Kim) made decision that he is not willing to bring Felix back to the 2015 season ... I have been hard working and almost (had an) argument with the manger to get this deal. We spent time too much on it and faced the change of the result about Felix from the field manager."
After the talks fell through, the official sent an email to Pie to apologize and, according to Yates, "threw his manager under the bus."
In that particular exchange, the official called Pie "my brother." Asking for Pie's understanding, the official told the player that both he and Yates did the best they could from their respective position to get the deal done.
"However, the manager who is god of KBO industry at this moment made that decision that I and Josh cannot take control of," the official wrote, in reference to Kim Sung-keun's nickname, "Baseball God," for his strategic acumen.
"I cannot say whose fault (it) is for this unfortunate result. I want you to know that the team gets frustrated about the result as well," the official also wrote. "The team just lost the best (center fielder) in the team because of the manager's decision."
Currently, Pie may sign with any club outside the KBO, but the Eagles reserve rights to Pie in the KBO for two years, which means he may not sign with any other team in South Korea unless the Eagles release their rights to the outfielder.
Based on an email exchange between Yates and the team official in charge of foreign players' contract talks, if Pie wants to sign with another KBO team, that club must compensate the Eagles with US$200,000 or a player. In the email, the official told Yates that in order to facilitate Pie's search, the Eagles will not request the monetary compensation and will only seek to pick out a player in compensation should Pie want to join another KBO club.
Yates said he was hoping the Eagles would release Pie outright and make him a free agent in the KBO. A senior official with the team said the Eagles don't plan to do so anytime soon.
Some clubs have released their former foreign players as free agents and allowed them to sign elsewhere in the KBO. Teams that don't do so often reason that they don't want their ex-foreign players to come back and haunt them while competing for a rival.
According to an official at the KBO, teams may release their foreign players at any point during a season.
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