The ‘Donbanchi’ professional baseball Stove League, with a total amount of 79.3 billion won, is about to close. Among the 21 players who exercised their FA (free agent) rights, only 3 players have yet to find their team. Of the remaining 18 players, 7 chose to remain in their original team, and 11 players moved teams. In addition, the Futures League free agent market and traded and released player markets were also lively.
Whenever free agents disappeared from the market one by one, the joys and sorrows of the clubs were mixed. The team that shopped well smiled, and the team whose pillar roots were pulled out couldn’t sleep at night. Some teams were content with maintaining the status quo, while others stayed away and watched others profusely. Reflecting the opinions of experts such as various broadcast commentators and key club officials, we evaluated the Stove League scores of 10 clubs this winter.
All of the commentators and experts who responded to the interview picked Lotte as the team that did the best reinforcement this winter. The reason is that they succeeded in strengthening the center line, a chronic weakness of the team, by recruiting catcher Kang-Nam Yoo and shortstop Jin-Hyeok Noh. The average OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) of Lotte catchers over the past three years was 0.610, 9th out of 10 teams, and the shortstop OPS was 0.546, which was the last overall.
MBC Sports Plus commentator Park Jae-hong said, “When evaluating a team’s power, the center line is considered important, but all the players Lotte recruited this time are center lines. Outfielder Ahn Kwon-soo is also a player with good batting ability.” Lee Sang-hoon, commentator for MBC Sports Plus, also said, “The best signing has been made. With Yoo Kang-nam’s arrival, a sense of stability has been added, not only as a pitcher, but also from fans and benches. The addition of experienced Noh Jin-hyuk will also lead to stability in the infield and pitching staff.”
KBSN sports commentator Jang Seong-ho paid attention to Lotte’s moves outside the FA market. Commissioner Jang said, “It was good to recruit FA, but I think it was good to recruit players released from other teams.” I would like to give points for the fact that I did well in creating the ‘depth’ needed to compete in long-term races while recruiting a large number of players.” Commissioner Park Jae-hong predicted, “Unexpectedly, I think Han Hyun-hee can do well again at Lotte.”
If you add the expected multiplier (about 7 wins) that new players will bring to Lotte’s multiplier (64 wins) last year, you can arithmetically calculate that Lotte Electric Power can expect 71 wins this season. This ranks fifth after SSG, LG, Kiwoom, and KT. There are many predictions that the players who joined this winter will become the ‘top of the line’ in the team’s constitutional improvement and player development achievements since the appointment of general manager Seong Min-gyu in 2019.
After Lotte, many experts picked Hanwha, the lowest-ranked team for three consecutive years, as the ‘winner’ of the Stove League. Hanwha, which came to the market with a bundle of money after a long time, recruited Chae Eun-seong, Lee Tae-yang, and Oh Seon-jin as free agents, and even Lee Myung-gi through a sign-and-trade deal, virtually embracing four free agents. Of course, I couldn’t bring all the players I wanted to buy when I first came to the market. He participated in the battle before recruiting Yang Eui-ji, the “largest fish”, and presented competitive conditions, but Yang Eui-ji’s choice was the original team Doosan. Hyung-jong Lee, a free agent for Futures, who seemed to be almost done, also headed to Kiwoom at the last moment.
Still, the general opinion is that by recruiting Chae Eun-seong, a good right-handed hitter, he has somewhat compensated for weaknesses and strengthened his offensive power. A key official from a club explained, “It is somewhat questionable whether Chae Eun-seong is a hitter worth 9 billion won in 6 years, but for Hanwha, which has a handicap of the lowest-ranking team and local team, a little overpay would have been a necessity, not an option.”
Last season, Hanwha was last among 10 clubs with a team OPS of 0.671. For the past three years, the right-hander OPS average was 0.673, last, right fielder OPS was 0.699, and first baseman was also at the bottom with 0.700. Chae Eun-seong is a right-handed hitter who can defend both right field and first base.
Yang Jun-hyeok, commentator for MBC Sports Plus, said, “Chae Eun-seong has to play a lot of roles at Hanwha. He probably felt and learned a lot from watching Kim Hyun-soo at LG. A true star player does not do well alone. He has a good influence on the entire team.” “Hanwha is a team with many young and promising players such as Moon Dong-ju and Kim Seo-hyun in the pitching staff. Commentator Jang Seong-ho also said, “Hanwha is much better than last year.”
However, it is unclear whether active external recruitment will lead to good results this season or advance to the postseason. Adding to last year’s win count (46 wins) plus the additional wins that the new players will bring (about 4 wins) would only add up to 50 wins. Commissioner Jang Seong-ho, who predicted, “Still, this year’s 10th place is Hanwha,” said, “Until last year, I would have said Hanwha without the slightest hesitation, but this year it is not to that extent. I expect to have a better season than last year.” I saw.
Kiwoom is a team that has had more player outflows than player recruitment in the free agency market every year. Kiwoom opened his wallet wide this winter for the first time in a long time. An official from another club said, “Kiwoom is a team that has achieved more than the sum of its strength last year. The Pythagorean expected win rate obtained by scoring and conceding is 0.508, which is 5th overall, but in fact, it has achieved a result that exceeded expectations of runner-up in the Korean Series.” “If we play the season again with the same power last year, there is no guarantee that the same results will come out,” he said. Accordingly, it is analyzed that the power upgrade was chosen instead of maintaining the status quo. The fact that it is the last season of Lee Jung-hoo, a star who is about to advance to the United States after the season, is also the background for Kiwoom to devote all its efforts this season.
The joining of veteran bullpen pitchers such as Won Jong-hyeon, Lim Chang-min, and Hong Seong-min is expected to be a great help in stabilizing the bullpen, which suffered frequent come-from-behind losses in the second half of last year. Also, we cannot ignore the positive effect that exemplary players and leaders Won Jong-hyun and Lim Chang-min will have on young pitchers. Lee Hyeong-jong, who Kiwoom recruited for 2 billion won in 4 years, has an OPS of 0.817 over the past 5 years, which is not much different from Chae Eun-seong (0.829), who Hanhwa recruited for 9 billion won in 6 years.
In baseball, there are times when one big game is more decisive than 10 small hits. This winter, Doosan also monopolized all the headlines and spotlights in the free agency market with one ‘return of Yang Eui-ji’. Even the original team NC, Hanwha, and KIA participated in the battle, and in the fierce fourth round surrounding the recruitment of Yang Eui-ji, the owner’s strong will led to a ‘win of will’.
With the return of the best homemaker in the league, Doosan’s pitching power as well as a wide range of synergies from defense and other lines are expected. Commentator Park Jae-hong predicted an unchanging performance, saying, “Wouldn’t Yang Eui-ji feel comfortable as he returned to his parent team?” On the other hand, commentator Jang Seong-ho said, “No matter how much Yang will be, there will be a bit of a burden. I am older than I was in my prime, and it is not easy to hit as many home runs as before as the home stadium has changed to Jamsil. Wouldn’t it be burdensome too?”
Due to the nature of the company, KT, like SSG or Doosan, is a team that cannot be ‘baseball for the owner’. This winter, rather than recruiting large players, we focused on minimizing leaks and strengthening internal stability. First, as starting shortstop Shim Woo-jun enlisted and veteran Park Kyung-soo reached the age of looking to retire, the center line infield was in dire need of reinforcement. At first, he aimed at A-class infielders such as Noh Jin-hyuk, but turned away after checking the sky-high price tag.
Instead, Kim Sang-soo, who showed the possibility of a rebound in the second half of last year, was recruited from Samsung, and “Utility” Lee Sang-ho, who was released from LG, was also brought in. Last year, Kim Sang-su posted an OPS of 0.628, slightly better than Shim Woo-jun (0.617). There was no significant difference between the two in defensive indicators such as the number of errors and in-play batting rate. A key official from another club said, “KT is so good at pitching that it is still a candidate for the championship just by maintaining the status quo.”
For two years in a row, the leading star was taken away. After giving Na Seong-beom to KIA last year, Yang Eui-ji and Noh Jin-hyuk suffered the loss this winter. Of the seven players who applied for free agency, only two players remained: Park Min-woo and Lee Jae-hak.
Of course, there are alternatives of their own. Yang Eui-ji’s catcher vacancy was quickly filled by Park Se-hyuk. Park Se-hyeok, who was virtually ‘abandoned’ by Doosan, is preparing for the season with his temper after joining NC. In the second half of the season, Kim Hyung-joon, the next-generation main catcher, will also return from injury and join the catcher competition. Shortstop Noh Jin-hyeok’s vacancy will be filled by hopeful Kim Joo-won. The calculation is to fill the gap between Won Jong-hyun and Lee Myung-gi with younger players.
However, it is true that there is no suitable alternative to the offensive power that disappeared with Yang Eui-ji, especially the long hitting power. We can only expect the performance of Jason Martin, a new foreign hitter, and the growth of Oh Young-soo and Yoon Hyeong-jun. It is also painful that a star with ticket power left the team for two consecutive years in a team with the lowest home crowd. Originally, the picture NC was trying to draw was not like this. If you can’t lead the game and keep getting dragged by the situation, you end up going where you don’t want to go.
LG is the team that has been hit the hardest by the salary cap (a total annual salary cap system) that will be implemented from this year. Main catcher Yoo Kang-nam-do and right-hander Geopo Chae Eun-seong were also players who had to be caught, but were unable to catch them. It is calculated that Park Dong-won was urgently brought in to fill the catcher position, and Chae Eun-seong’s vacancy was filled with a foreign hitter who had not been there.
Commentator Lee Sang-hoon, a former LG legend, said, “It is true that the vacancy of the two players seems large. Especially at the start of the season, it will feel very empty.” We need to use the existing players well to fill the vacancy.”
However, there are so many good players and a thick player base, so it is expected that there will be no major obstacle to the ‘trend’. An official from another club showed caution, saying, “Among the LG backups, there are some players who can play as the starting lineup immediately if they go to a lower-ranking team. Even if one or two players are missing, there are enough resources to replace them.” Now, it is LG that has become the basis for advancing to the postseason. The expected multiplier in 2023, which reflects the change in power, is 85 wins, not much different from SSG (86 wins).
Samsung, which led the winter FA market from 2021 to 2022, spent a quiet stove league this winter. The only externally recruited player is Kim Tae-hoon, an outfielder who came over as a compensation player. Franchise star Kim Sang-soo, as well as min-wan infielder Oh Seon-jin, showed a strong will to change the infielder generation.
The evaluation of the baseball world looking at this is greatly mixed. Commissioner Yang Joon-hyeok, a member of the ‘Samsung Legend’, said, “Samsung’s movement this winter is a little disappointing. I thought it needed reinforcement, but in reality there was little movement. There is a possibility that it will be difficult starting from the summer.”
Commissioner Park Jae-hong also said, “Samsung did not make any special reinforcements. I think it is weaker than other teams.”
On the other hand, Commissioner Jang Seong-ho said, “It is true that there is no plus factor, but weren’t Kim Sang-soo and Oh Seon-jin, who transferred, great players? Considering the players to be raised, such as Lee Jae-hyun and Kim Ji-chan, I think the club did a good job managing traffic.” 메이저놀이터
Commissioner Lee Sang-hoon, who returned from coverage of the Samsung camp in Okinawa, Japan, said, “I felt something ‘primitive’ while watching the training led by coach Jin-Man Park. You will be able to meet the color,” he said, expressing anticipation. Samsung is a team that has almost reached the threshold of winning the regular season in the 2021 season. At that time, only the manager and coaching staff changed from the members, and most of the rest remained the same. There is ample potential to challenge the top ranks again.
SSG focused on maintaining the status quo. Replacing all foreign players, recruiting left-hander Lim Jun-seop, and outfielder Oh Tae-gon remaining free agents were all the moves this winter. Of course, since last year’s ‘Wire-to-Wire’ (never giving up first place in the regular season) championship team, there will be no big problem in advancing to fall baseball even if they maintain their existing power well.
However, if the goal is to win two consecutive years, the story is different. Last year, SSG was a team whose actual win rate (0.629) was much higher than the Pythagorean expected win rate (0.567) obtained by scoring and conceding. As in last year, there is no guarantee that all ‘cosmic energy’ will be directed towards SSG this year. Veteran players such as Choo Shin-soo, Kim Kang-min, Choi Jeong, and Noh Kyung-eun also grew a year older.
It is also unfortunate that there was no reinforcement in the catcher’s position, which is a weakness. Owner Jeong Yong-jin even directly said, “Please wait (recruit catcher)”, but he was tied to the salary cap and could not do anything. The catcher trade is also impossible due to the salary cap. We have no choice but to look forward to the performance of Kim Min-sik, who was recruited last year, and the growth of promising star Cho Hyeong-woo.
Most commentators and experts pointed to KIA as the loser of Stove League this winter. It is crucial that he failed to catch main catcher Park Dong-won by sending him to LG. An official from another club responded curiously, saying, “When KIA paid all kinds of costs, including the right to name newcomers, to recruit Park Dong-won, of course I thought he would sign a long-term contract or catch him as a free agent.”
Commissioner Jang Seong-ho also said, “It’s unfortunate that KIA missed Park Dong-won. For most coaches, the second year of their tenure is a time to bet on a game, but KIA missed Park Dong-won and there were no outside recruits to speak of. As coach Kim Jong-guk, who experienced the postseason last year, I would have expected to strengthen my strength and achieve good results in the second year, but my strength has weakened.”
Commissioner Park Jae-hong also expressed concern, “Park Dong-won was taken away, and Choi Hyung-woo, the main gun, was less powerful than he was in his prime. In addition, if new foreigners do not live up to expectations, it can be a difficult season.”