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With new contract signed, veteran infielder can now look forward

Sports 17:44 January 22, 2019

SUWON, South Korea, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korean baseball club KT Wiz held their first team meeting of the new year on Tuesday, and veteran infielder Park Kyung-su almost didn't make it.

After the 2018 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season, his fourth in a Wiz uniform, Park opted to test the open market. But the 34-year-old only signed a new three-year deal with KT on Monday, barely in time for him to join familiar faces at the KT Wiz Park in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul, for the kickoff meeting.

"I'd be lying if I said these negotiations weren't weighing on me," Park told reporters after the team meeting. "I know the team tried not to hurt my feelings too much, and I am thankful for that. Both sides made some concessions and I signed a pretty good deal."

In this photo provided by the KT Wiz baseball club on Jan. 21, 2019, infielder Park Kyung-su (R) stands next to his general manager, Lee Soong-yong, after agreeing to a new three-year contract with the Korea Baseball Organization team. (Yonhap)

That "pretty good deal" is worth 2.6 billion won (US$2.3 million) over three years. Park will make 400 million won in guaranteed annual salary, up from 230 million won in 2018, and received an 800 million-won signing bonus. He can make up to 600 million won in performance-based incentives.

Park said the talks dragged on because he was hoping to earn more in guaranteed money and added, "I wanted to be compensated for what I've accomplished here for four seasons."

Park has been one of the steadiest hitters for the lowly Wiz. Park has batted .280 over the past four years while averaging a little over 20 home runs and 73 RBIs in that span, with a career-high 25 homers in 2018. In his 10 previous seasons with the LG Twins, Park had been a fringe player who'd never reached double figures in home runs or batted .300. Park said he got a new lease on his baseball life after joining the Wiz.

But with the hot stove league all but frozen this winter, leaving nine out of 15 free agents still unsigned, and the start of spring training merely weeks away, Park couldn't keep driving a hard bargain. He bit the bullet and accepted less in guaranteed money than he would have liked, while betting that he'll be good enough to earn 600 million won in incentives.

In this file photo from April 15, 2018, Park Kyung-su of the KT Wiz hits an RBI double against the LG Twins in the top of the eighth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

"If I can play a full season without getting hurt, I should be able to get the incentives," Park said. "It's going to motivate me this year. I'll keep sacrificing for this team for three more years and trying to set good examples for my teammates."

In another major offseason change, Park has ceded his captaincy to outfielder Yoo Han-joon -- at 37, the club's oldest player. Park said that has lifted some pressure off his shoulders but added he'll still be a part of the team's leadership group.

"Han-joon doesn't really talk much, so when things need to be said, I'll step up and be the vocal guy in the room," Park said. "I want to help our new captain as much as I can."

Despite Park's heroics at the plate, the Wiz have yet to make the postseason in their four years in the KBO. They finished dead last among 10 clubs in each of their first three years, winning 50, 53 and 52 games out of 144, before moving out of the cellar in 2018 with 59 wins for ninth place.

"I think we should be able to reach 65 to 70 wins this year," Park said. "If we can build some momentum early, we may even go for a .500 mark in winning percentage."

As for his personal goals, Park said he'd like to play an entire 144-game season.

"It's something I've never done before, and I think it's amazing for anyone to play the full season," said Park, whose personal best is 137 games from 2015. "I want to find out how rewarding it must feel to play every game."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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