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Free agent pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong seeking only guaranteed deal in MLB pursuit: agent

All News 13:00 January 05, 2021

SEOUL, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korean free agent pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong will not settle for anything less than a fully guaranteed contract in his pursuit of a major league dream, his agent said Tuesday.

Choi In-gook, who represents the Kia Tigers left-hander for the Seoul-based Spostarz, also said Yang's destination for the 2021 season, be it the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) or Major League Baseball (MLB), would have to be determined by mid-January.

"In order for him to prepare for the new season, we'd have to make that call by the middle of this month, and we've told interested major league clubs as much," Choi said. "Teams that are still trying to fill out their rotation have shown interest."

In this file photo from Oct. 18, 2020, Yang Hyeon-jong of the Kia Tigers pitches against the LG Twins in a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

This is Yang's second crack at reaching MLB. He was posted by the Tigers after the 2014 season but couldn't land a deal then. The bespectacled lefty won both the KBO regular season MVP and Korean Series MVP in 2017 and had another excellent year in 2019 when he posted a 2.29 ERA in 29 starts.

But the 32-year-old workhorse posted a 4.70 ERA last year, his worst as a full-time starter, while going 11-10 in 31 starts. With those unimpressive numbers in his most recent season, Yang has been almost a forgotten free agent this offseason.

Choi said talks for Yang will likely pick up speed after another Asian pitcher, the Japanese ace Tomoyuki Sugano, comes off the board.

Sugano has been posted by his Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) club Yomiuri Giants, and the deadline for the two-time Central League MVP to sign a major league deal is 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Thursday.

Multiple clubs are reportedly interested in Sugano, who is considered near top-of-the-rotation material. Yang may be good for the back end of a big league rotation.

Choi said his client will not accept a split contract, which pays players different salaries based on time spent in the majors and the minors.

In this file photo from Oct. 29, 2020, Yang Hyeon-jong of the Kia Tigers takes a bow before fans at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul, during a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game against the Doosan Bears. (Yonhap)

On the other hand, Choi said Yang will not get hung up on inserting a clause that prevents a big league club from sending him to the minor leagues without consent.

Of South Korean players who've made jumps from the KBO to MLB, current LG Twins outfielder Kim Hyun-soo put that clause into his deal with the Baltimore Orioles in 2015. Kim Ha-seong, the former Kiwoom Heroes shortstop who recently signed with the San Diego Padres, can't be sent to the minor leagues without consent in 2023, 2024 and 2025.

"We'll be flexible with the minor league assignment, but we won't take a split deal," Choi said.

Yang has thrown at least 170 innings in every year since 2014. In that span, no KBO pitcher has gobbled up more innings than Yang's 1,290 2/3.


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