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Free agent pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong extends self-imposed deadline for MLB deal

Sports 16:34 January 20, 2021

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korean free agent pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong wants to give himself a bit more time as he tries to make it to the big leagues, according to his agent Wednesday.

The day was the self-imposed deadline for the left-hander to decide on his destination for the 2021 season, be it the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) or Major League Baseball (MLB). Yang, 32, had been in talks with the Kia Tigers, the only KBO club he's played for in his 15-year career, for a return in case his major league dream didn't come true. The two sides met last Thursday and again on Tuesday.

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)

But around noon Wednesday, Yang's agent, Choi In-gook, asked the Tigers for 10 extra days, and the club agreed to give Yang more time.

The club's general manager, Cho Kye-hyeon, said he wanted to support Yang's pursuit of his dreams.

"I was a player myself, and I understand that dream of reaching the major leagues as well as anyone," Cho said. "We agreed to wait for 10 more days, out of respect for Yang as our ace."

Choi thanked the Tigers for their patience. He also said Yang will be willing to join a major league club as long as he's included in a 40-man roster.

Yang has generated virtually no buzz in the slowly-developing offseason. Other big-ticket free agent pitchers, including the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, haven't come off the board.

Yang is also coming off a mediocre 2020 season, in which he went only 11-10 in 31 starts with a 4.70 ERA, his worst as a full-time starter.

His ERA sat at 5.88 at the end of July, and the southpaw had to put up a 3.72 ERA across his final 16 starts just to bring the season number down to a more respectable level.

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

Other numbers took a beating, too. He issued 64 walks in 172 1/3 innings in 2020 after allowing only 33 free passes in 184 2/3 innings the previous year. Yang's walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) amounted to 1.42 in 2020, his worst figure since 2014.

Yang was posted by the Tigers after the 2014 season but couldn't land a major deal then, either. A mysterious club won the bidding for the exclusive rights to negotiate with Yang, but the Tigers weren't satisfied with the amount of the winning bid and pulled Yang back from the market.

In this file photo from Oct. 29, 2020, Yang Hyeon-jong of the Kia Tigers (R) is greeted by his manager Matt Williams (L) in front of the dugout during a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game against the Doosan Bears at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

In each of the ensuing six seasons since deciding to stay with the Tigers, Yang has thrown at least 170 innings. In that span, the workhorse left-hander leads all KBO pitchers with 85 wins, 10 complete games, 925 strikeouts and 1,119 1/3 innings pitched.

It was only in 2017 that Yang was voted the regular season MVP here, thanks to a 20-6 record and a 3.44 ERA. He earned the Korean Series MVP award in 2017 by leading the Tigers to their first championship in eight years. Yang pitched a complete game shutout and saved the clinching game in that series.

Yang was even better in 2019, when he was 16-8 with a 2.29 ERA in 29 starts while giving up only six home runs in 184 2/3 innings.

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)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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