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All-Star catcher among 22 eligible for baseball free agency

All Headlines 10:49 November 18, 2018

SEOUL, Nov. 18 (Yonhap) -- All-Star catcher Yang Eui-ji and slugging third baseman Choi Jeong are among 22 players eligible for free agency in South Korean professional baseball.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) on Sunday released a list of players who can become free agents this offseason.

High school graduates must play nine full seasons to be eligible for free agency, while players who join the KBO after a four-year college must play eight full seasons before they can enter the open market.

The length of the KBO season went from 128 to 144 games in 2015, with the addition of a 10th club, KT Wiz.

For hitters, a full season equates to appearing in at least two-thirds of a season. Pitchers must have thrown at least two-thirds of the minimum innings to qualify for the ERA title. The minimum innings requirement equals the number of games in a season.

In this file photo from Nov. 12, 2018, Yang Eui-ji of the Doosan Bears celebrates his game-tying, two-run single off Merrill Kelly of the SK Wyverns in the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 6 of the Korean Series at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

Players will also qualify for a full season if they've remained on the active roster for at least 145 days within a year.

The KBO said the players have until Monday to decide whether or not to become free agents and it will unveil the list of free agents on Tuesday.

Headlining this year's list is Yang, a 10-year backstop for the Doosan Bears. The 31-year-old has been regarded as the KBO's best two-way catcher for years, and enjoyed his best offensive season in 2018.

Yang set new career highs with a .358 batting average, 23 home runs, 29 doubles and 84 runs scored, while appearing in 133 games, also a personal best.

Choi, third baseman for the reigning champion SK Wyverns, is eligible for free agency for the second time in his 14-year career. After the 2014 season, Choi signed a four-year deal worth 8.6 billion won (US$7.7 million), the most lucrative free agent contract in the league history at the time.

Choi has mostly lived up to his deal. He won back-to-back home run titles in 2016 and 2017 with 40 and 46 homers, and he followed that up with 35 homers while being limited to 115 games due to injuries. No one has launched more home runs than Choi's 121 over the past three years.

Choi has won four Korean Series championships with the Wyverns, most recently this year over the Bears.

In the clinching Game 6 last Monday, Choi smacked a solo home run in the top of the ninth inning to tie the score at 4-4, and the Wyverns prevailed 5-4 in 13 innings.

In this file photo from Nov. 12, 2018, Choi Jeong of the SK Wyverns celebrates his game-tying solo home run against the Doosan Bears in the top of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the Korean Series at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

Choi's SK teammate, catcher Lee Jae-won, is also eligible for free agency. The Wyverns captain batted .329 with 17 home runs and 57 RBIs while providing stability behind the plate.

Among others on the eligible list, former Chicago Cubs reliever Lim Chang-yong has already been released by the Kia Tigers. Samsung Lions' left-hander Jang Won-sam has asked to be released, and the Lions have agreed in principle to trade him to the LG Twins.

Under the KBO rules, if there are between 11 and 20 free agents, each of the 10 clubs can sign up to two free agents from outside. If there are fewer than 10 free agents, then clubs can only acquire one free agent each.

A club that signs a free agent must pay the player's previous club hefty compensation -- either paying twice the amount of the player's 2018 salary and sending a player not on the protected list, or paying three times the amount of the player's 2018 salary.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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