Catcher On The Verge Of Retirement is 50 Million Won

Lee Jae-won, a catcher who represented SSG Landers in the past, had a sluggish season last year, as he had to agonize over whether to continue his career as a player. He had only 27 chances to play, and had a batting average of 0.091 (4 hits in 44 times at bat), two RBIs and an OPS of 0.242. As a player who receives an annual salary of 100 million won received such a report card, it was natural to agonize over his survival.

SSG was a team that Lee Jae-won played for all his life. After graduating from Incheon High School, he joined the club in 2006 as a first-round pick while playing for the SK Wyverns, and spent a whopping 17 seasons excluding the period of commercial service. In 2018, he played the best in his career with a batting average of 0.329 (134 hits in 407 times at bat), 17 homers, 57 RBIs and 0.919, leading him to the Korean Series title. After the end of that season, he became a big-scale four-year contract worth a total of 6.9 billion won, becoming a top-rated catcher in the league. However, this contract went downhill afterwards, as if it was a burden. Lee Jae-won, who served as the captain, was also pushed out of the starting lineup, and his chances gradually declined to 107 games in 2021 and 105 games in 2022. Eventually, Lee decided to leave SSG after the last season. Whether it works or not, he asked for a voluntary release with the determination to seek new opportunities outside.

Hanwha reached out to Lee Jae-won, who must have been mentally and physically exhausted. Sohn Hyuk, Hanwha’s general manager, watched Lee Jae-won closely from late 2017 to 2019. As a leader and senior who was with Lee Jae-won at the time when he shone the most, he proposed a new start at Hanwha. Lee Jae-won signed a contract with Hanwha for an annual salary of 50 million won and reached a turning point.

“We recruited Lee Jae-won because we thought there was a lack of experienced catchers other than Choi Jae-hoon and Park Sang-eon, and that there was enough need to prepare for injury and strengthen depth,” Sohn said. “We expect Lee Jae-won to add weight to the catchers until promising Heo In-seo returns from Sangmu in the second half of next season.” It meant that Lee Jae-won was satisfied only by sharing Choi Jae-hoon’s burden a little and buying time for young catchers to grow.

While Lee Jae-won finds his new home and is preparing for the new season, Lee is facing the cold wind in the market. Given his last season’s performance, Lee has no reason to be neglected. Lee had a batting average of 0.249 (54 hits in 217 at-bats), eight RBIs and a 0.586 OPS in 81 games last year. His original team Kiwoom Heroes showed a firm commitment to nurture Kim Dong-hun, a promising catcher who was recruited in the second round in 2023, and thus reduced the chances, but Lee still maintains a sense of stability in defense and ability to handle critical issues. At the 2023 World Baseball Classic held in March last year, Lee maintained top-notch skills in his late 30s to the extent that he had the honor of wearing the national flag for the first time in his 16th year since his debut. Had it not been for forced generational change at Kiwoom, Lee may have achieved a better performance than last year.

If Kiwoom does not have any regrets, other clubs will also be able to covet it, but the amount of compensation will be taken. Lee Ji-young completed his first career FA contract with Kiwoom for a total of 1.8 billion won for three years ahead of the 2020 season, and signed an annual salary of 500 million won last year. Lee Ji-young, who has re-qualified as an FA, is rated B. If a B-grade FA is taken from another club, one compensation player, in addition to 25 protection players, and Lee Ji-young’s annual salary of 100 percent (500 million won) or 200 percent (billion won) last year will be compensated to the original team. If it were Lee Ji-young, I would consider a short-term contract for one to two years, but I am reluctant to take her to an FA contract because the navel is bigger than the belly. In order to transfer, there is no trick other than asking for an autograph and trade or staying at Kiwoom.

Lee Ji-young graduated from Jemulpogo-Gyeongseong University and began his professional career as a fostering player with the Samsung Lions in 2008. After debuting as a pro in 2009, he played well as a backup catcher for Samsung until 2018, and built a new nest in Kiwoom in the KBO’s first triangular trade ahead of the 2019 season. At that time, Kiwoom, Samsung, and SK moved, and Kiwoom gave up Ko Jong-wook to SK and received Lee Ji-young, Samsung gave up Lee Ji-young to Kiwoom, Kim Dong-yeop to Samsung, and SK gave up Kim Dong-yeop to receive Ko Jong-wook. Lee Ji-young was evaluated as the final winner of the triangular trade by solidly setting up Kiwoom’s home turf at once, and from 2019 to last year, he recorded a total of 533 games, a batting average of 0.276 (398 hits in 1440 at-bats), three home runs, 151 RBIs and an OPS of 0.644 in Kiwoom. During the period, he played in the next most games after Kim Hye-sung (674 games) and Lee Jung-hoo (631 games), and there was no player other than offense to push Lee Ji-young out of his communication skills and defensive stability with pitchers.

In the end, the obstacle to compensation changed the temperature of Lee Jae-won and Lee Ji-young this winter. It takes a lot of time and money to raise a proper catcher. Lee Ji-young is clearly a card that is hard to turn away from in the market unconditionally. I wonder which club finds the trick first. 먹튀검증

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