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Four veteran catchers among 21 free agents in KBO

SEOUL– A quartet of veteran backstops, including a perennial MVP candidate, headlined the list of 21 free agents announced by the South Korean baseball league Wednesday.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) said 21 out of 40 eligible players elected for free agency, and they can begin negotiating with any interested teams Thursday.

The NC Dinos have seven free agents, including the biggest name in this year’s open market, catcher Yang Eui-ji.

Yang joined the Dinos in December 2018 on a four-year free agent deal worth 12.5 billion won (US$9.45 million), which made him the highest-paid catcher in the league. Yang helped the Dinos to their first Korean Series title in 2020, and from 2019 to 2022, Yang had the highest on-base plus slugging (OPS) in the KBO with .969, and ranked second with 103 home runs and 397 RBIs.
The 35-year-old saw his numbers dip a bit in 2022, and he batted .283/.380/.480 — his worst numbers across the board in five years — with 20 home runs and 94 RBIs.

But Yang’s defense remained strong, and he has long been one of the league’s top game callers. Yang is still expected to commend significant interest in free agency, and teams in need of a catcher who find Yang to be out of their price range can go after someone like Yoo Kang-nam.

Yoo, who has spent his entire 12-year career with the LG Twins, is five years younger than Yang and is also a strong defensive catcher with some pop.

Another catcher with power, Park Dong-won, is also a free agent after one season with the Kia Tigers. The 32-year-old hit 18 home runs and drove in 57 runs this year.

Park Sei-hyok, a Doosan Bears catcher since 2012, is a free agent for the first time. The new Bears manager, Lee Seung-yuop, has hinted that he’d like to bolster the catcher position for 2023, which likely means parting ways with Park, a well-respected backstop with limited offense.

Free agents are split into three classes depending on their salaries, and different compensation rules are in place for signing players from each of those classes.

Players ranked in the top three in salary on their team and top 30 in the league are in Class A. If a team signs a free agent from that class, the team must pay his previous club twice the amount of that player’s previous salary and send a player not on its protected list, or pay the team three times the amount of the player’s previous salary.

Among others, the reigning Korean Series champions have two free agents in right-hander Lee Tae-yang and infielder Oh Tae-gon. Sidearm pitcher Han Hyun-hee and right-hander Jeong Chan-heon both elected for free agency from the Kiwoom Heroes, the Korean Series runners-up.

Players whose salary placed them between fourth and 10th on their clubs, and 31st and 60th in the league end up in Class B. The compensation rules for acquiring these free agents are as follows: the same amount of the player’s previous salary and a player, or double the amount of that salary without a player.

And if there are between 21 and 30 free agents, clubs can each sign up to three free agents from outside.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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