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MVP candidate among 15 free agents in baseball

Sports 10:25 November 20, 2018

SEOUL, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) -- MVP candidate Yang Eui-ji and slugger Choi Jeong are among 15 players to hit the open market in South Korean baseball this winter.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) announced a list of players who have elected for free agency. Last weekend, the KBO said 22 players were eligible, and 15 chose to exercise their rights.

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, the 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.

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

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)

Yang, a veteran catcher for the Doosan Bears, is one of the biggest names in this year's free agency. Yang appeared in just three games in 2007 and then completed his mandatory military service before returning for his first full season in 2010. He hit 20 homers and drove in 68 runs to win the Rookie of the Year award that season.

The 31-year-old has since developed into the KBO's most complete catcher -- an accomplished game caller and defender who can also hit for power and average. Yang has launched 20 or more home runs four times, including a career-high 23 in 2018. The career .299 hitter batted .358 to rank second in the league this year, and he finished fourth in the MVP voting Monday. He made 600 million won (US$532,250) this season.

Choi, who's patrolled the hot corner for the SK Wyverns since 2005, is a free agent for the second time. After the 2014 season, Choi signed a four-year deal worth 8.6 billion won, the most lucrative free agent contract in the KBO history at the time.

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

The 31-year-old is second among active players and ninth all-time with 306 career home runs.

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 Oct. 2, 2018, Choi Jeong of the SK Wyverns watches his solo home run against the Nexen Heroes in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 2 of the Korea Baseball Organization playoff series at SK Happy Dream Park in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Choi's SK teammate, catcher Lee Jae-won, is also a free agent. The Wyverns captain batted .329 with 17 home runs and 57 RBIs while providing stability behind the plate. He made 350 million won this year and is expected to get a hefty raise, regardless of where he ends up.

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 it 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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