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Baseball club willing to wait on free agent slugger

All Headlines 14:42 December 19, 2016

SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korean baseball club Lotte Giants said Monday they're willing to wait on free agent slugger Hwang Jae-gyun to explore his options before considering a return to his original team.

The Giants on Saturday sat down with Hwang, who's spent the past seven Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) seasons with them, for the first time since the third baseman declared free agency last month.

The 29-year-old All-Star returned home recently after training on his own in the United States for weeks. The Giants had been in contact with him but hadn't met him in person over his contract status until last weekend.

Hwang, one of the premier free agents left unsigned in the KBO, is pursuing a major league contract. And a Giants official said, as much as the team would like to bring Hwang back, they will also take their time as Hwang continues to gauge his big league possibilities.

"He still really wants to take his shot at the majors," the team official said. "He wants to wait a while to see how his big league pursuit will play out, and we told him we respect his position."

Hwang enjoyed the best offensive season of his 10-year KBO career in 2016. He posted a .335/.394/.570 line, 27 home runs and 113 RBIs for the Giants -- all of them career-highs. He also cut down on his strikes, from 122 last year to just 66 this year, while stealing 25 bases, the fourth time he's swiped at least 20 bags in a season.

In this photo provided by sports agency GSI, free agent third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun takes part in a showcase before major league scouts in Bradenton, Florida, on Nov. 21, 2016. (Yonhap)

Hwang held a showcase before scouts from some 20 major league teams last month in Florida. Nothing has come out of that occasion yet, and in the meantime, another KBO club, KT Wiz, have shown interest in signing Hwang.

For their part, the Giants could be left out to dry if they wait too long for Hwang to make his decision. They still need to sign a foreign hitter, and they will have to look for a corner infielder if Hwang signs elsewhere -- by which time viable infield options may no longer be available.

Still, the Giants are adamant.

"There's no shift to our stance that Hwang Jae-gyun is an integral part of what we want to accomplish as a team," the official said. "We'll wait for him to make his decision until the very end."

If recent history is any indication, Hwang could still be signed by a major league club after the calendar flips to the new year. Last offseason, two South Korean free agents, right-hander Oh Seung-hwan and first baseman Lee Dae-ho, signed their deals in January and February, respectively.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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