2009 has a much more interesting group of free agents than 2008. Last year, the only big names involved in free agent speculation were Lotte DH Hong Seong-heun and Doosan 3rd baseman Kim Dong-ju. Almost every team has important decisions to make this year.
KIA has 4 free agents this season. Pitcher Lee Dae-jin, outfielder Lee Jong-beom, catcher Kim Sang-hoon and infielder Jang Seong-ho. Lee Dae-jin was a former potential closer who became an injury-plagued starter. If he continues his career, he'll likely stay with KIA. Lee Jong Beom will turn 40 next year. I think he still has something in the tank, but it remains to be seen if he'll try to play elsewhere. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the elite teams(SK or Doosan) made a run at him for depth. Kim Sang-hoon is a career backup that lucked his way into 12 homers and 65 RBIs. He'll likely be back with KIA...as a backup. Jang is an interesting player. He's only 32, but he's played in the KBO for 14 seasons, all of them in Gwangju. He's a former national team member and he had a solid season at the plate last year. Jang posted a .284/.378/.424 line in 271 at bats. He could earn some attention as a free agent. I really wouldn't be surprised if a team like Lotte or LG made a run at him.
SK also has 4 FA's. Infielder Ahn Kyeong-hyeon, pitcher Ga Deuk-yeom, outfielder Park Jae-hong and infielder Son Ji-hwan. The only real decision here is whether or not to keep Park Jae-hong. Park enters his age 37 season next year and he's coming off a .270/.371/.422 season. He did finish with double digit steals and homers. I think he comes back for another season. Possibly his last. Ahn and Song barely saw the field last year. Ahn turns 40 next year. It could be time for him to start selling insurance. Song is only 31 and could attract interest from another club as roster filler. Ga Deuk-yeom could be joining Ahn at the insurance company. He'll be 41 and coming off a rotten season(6.75 ERA in only 8 appearances).
Lotte only has 2 free agents this season. Infielder Park Hyeon-seung and catcher Choi Ki-moon. Choi is a backup catcher and played like it last year. He lit the world on fire with a .645 OPS in 117 at bats. Park didn't see the field for the big club last year. I'm guessing there was an injury involved, but I can't find any recent news stories. He's a career .265 hitter who hasn't seen a KBO field since 2008 and he'll be 38 next year. Also, I hear his brother's restaurant needs a new greeter. The biggest decision for Lotte is it's manager. Jerry Royster's contract is up and talks have been slow. Based on the reports I've read, it sounds like they've figured out the money. I get the impression that Lotte only wants to give him a one year deal and Royster would like a longer contract. Unless he gets a godfather offer from a Japanese or American club, Royster will be back in the dugout for Lotte.
Samsung has 1 free agent this year. Outfielder Park Han-yi. I'm a huge fan of Park. He's one of 2 KBO jerseys that I've purchased. It would ruin my jersey if he left, so I'm really hoping Park can reach an agreement with Samsung. Park posted a solid .311/.399/.428 line for the Lions in 334 at bats. Next year is his age 31 season. He still has a lot of years left at the top of Samsung's lineup and roaming the outfield in Daegu....for the sake of my jersey.
The Heroes have 6 free agents this off-season. Pitches Jeon Joon-ho and Kim Su-kyeong, infielder Lee Soong-yeong, catcher Kim Dong-su and outfielders Song Ji-man and Jeon Joon-ho(not a misprint, they have 2 FA's with the same name at different positions). Song Ji-man still has a lethal bat and should find work as a DH somewhere. Hanhwa could be a team in need of some punch so Daejeon could be a destination for Song. Song posted a .289/.384/.521 line in 374 at bats. He needs 17 more homers for 300 and next year will be his age 37 season. Lee Soong-yeong is entering his age 39 season, but he posted a solid .296/.376/.401 line. He could be pushed out for a younger player or the Heroes could hang on to him for one more year. This team's financial situation is a bit murkier than the rest. Kim Dong-su will be 41 next year and outfielder Jeon barely saw the field last year. Pitcher Jeon wasn't much better. Kim Su-kyeong spent most of 2009 as a starting pitcher/punching bag. He finished 6-11 with a 6.67 ERA in 117 2/3 innings. I think he comes back, but only as a back of the rotation christmas tree.
LG has 4 free agents. Pitchers Oh Sang-min and Park Ji-cheol, catcher Kim Jeong-min and infielder Park Jong-ho. Oh was one of LG's top relievers last year. I have to think he'll be returning. He's only 35 and he's coming off a 3.00 ERA in 63 appearances with 6 holds and a save. This could be the end of the line for Park Ji-cheol. He's bounced around for a while and barely saw the field last year. Kim Jeong-min has spent 16 seasons with LG as a backup catcher. I'm guessing next year will be 17. Park Jong-ho is in his 2nd stint with LG. Last year could very well have been his retirement tour.
Hanhwa has 6 free agents this season. Pitcher Jeong Min-cheol, catcher Lee Do-hyeong, infielder Kim Tae-gyun, Lee Beom-ho, Kim Min-jae and Kang Dong-woo. It sounds like closer Brad Thomas is about to jump to the NPB's Hanshin Tigers. Kim Tae-gyun could very well follow. Kim talks to the press every day and basically says, "I haven't decided, yet," every day. If Kim makes the jump, his power numbers could take a hit. He's a 30+ homer guy in the KBO. I think he's more a 20-25 homer guy in the NPB, but I think his career .310 batting average is for real.
I'm honestly not sure what to make of Lee. I think he benifitted from the smaller parks more than Kim did, but he's also produced for the national team. I don't think his game translates to Japan very well. His plate discipline isn't always the best, but he was playing on a rotten club last year. That probably had an effect on his patience.
Kim Min-jae posted a .576 OPS in 272 at bats. He'll be lucky if he gets a job as a vendor. If Kang Dong-woo played on a better team, he would have gotten more attention. Kang signed on with Hanhwa after a miserable 2008 with KIA(think a .100 batting average in 40 at bats). He posted a .302/.384/.429 line in 506 at bats. He homered 10 times and stole 27 bases in 30 attempts. I think he re-signs with Hanhwa. Once one of the best Korean pitchers of the 90's Jeong Min-cheol was a punchline last year. Jeong posted 8 consecutive seasons with double digit W's during the 90's, but in 8 starts last year he posted an 0-6 record with a 9.87 ERA and 2.32(!) WHIP. I think the KBO told Jeong that it's time for a new line of work. If he signs with any one other than Hanhwa, I'll buy a hat and a personalized jersey.