Their age, mid-to-late 30s, and the somewhat onerous B-grade compensation rules make them unpopular. Competition is inevitable, but they are irreplaceable. The Lotte Giants are expected to try to retain Jeon Jun-woo (37) and Ahn Chi-hong (33).
The KBO released the list of free agent eligible players on April 15. Thirty-four players are eligible for free agency, excluding nine players with multi-year contracts and retirements. Lotte had four players qualify for free agency, including Park Se-woong (Grade A), Shin Jeong-rak (Grade C), and Jeon Jun-woo and Ahn Chi-hong (Grade B and above). Considering Park signed a five-year, 9 billion won non-free agent contract last year, that’s three internal free agents. And the two who need to be retained are Jeon Jun-woo and Ahn Chi-hong.
Jun-woo Jeon and Chi-hong Ahn are irreplaceable players on the team. Both players are eligible for their second free agency. They signed their first free agent contracts at the end of the 2019 season. Joon-woo stayed for four years and 3.4 billion won, while Ahn Chi-hong moved from KIA to Lotte for 2+2 years and up to 5.6 billion won.
Jun-woo Jeon was the centerpiece of Lotte’s batting order and produced at a peak level even as he approached his late 30s. In 138 games (493 at-bats, 154 hits), he batted .301 with 17 home runs, 77 RBIs, 80 runs scored, and an OPS of .852. He was first on the team in batting average, home runs, and OPS. Even though he’s approaching his late 30s, he’s managed to keep up with the younger players by taking care of himself.
Ahn Chi-hong served as captain this year and led the team by example, even if he was sometimes bitter. Despite nagging injuries, he batted .425 (124-for-425) with eight home runs, 63 RBIs, and a .774 OPS in 121 games.
Outside of those two players, Lotte’s batting lineup is much less weighty. No other player has produced this level of production in a full season. The lineup will be made up somehow, but there are no alternatives to fill their spots. Jun-woo Jeon’s offense in the designated hitter spot is irreplaceable. Ahn Chi-hong’s spot at second base is also unavailable for now. Go Seung-min, a former second base prospect, is training to play second base again, but it’s not an easy leap to make, so Lotte’s strategy in the free agent market is to focus on retaining Jeon and Ahn rather than pursuing outside free agents.
At his inauguration ceremony last month, newly appointed head coach Kim Tae-hyung said to Jeon Jun-woo and Ahn Chi-hong, “As a coach, it’s inevitable to be greedy to have many players. I want to tell them to stay in the team and help me,” and “You talk a lot about free agents. I told them that the club needs FA players, and then the club will make a judgment.” He requested and hoped that they would stay.
The key is the right price for both players. While the team’s bone-crunching salary diet over the past four years has reduced the team’s total salary to a point where it won’t affect the salary cap, it’s not entirely comfortable considering the salary increases of free agents and existing players, including last year’s signings Noh Jin-hyuk, Yoo Kang-nam, and Han Hyun-hee.
Both Jeon Jun-woo and Ahn Chi-hong are classified as B free agents, so the threshold for compensation is high for other clubs to sign them. There is a compensation rule of 100% of the previous year’s salary or 200% of the previous year’s salary for each player outside the 25-man protected list. Nevertheless, Jun-woo Jeon and Chi-hong Ahn have been healthy this year and have drawn interest from teams in need of offensive reinforcements.
In this year’s free agency market, where there are no standout S-class players, Jeon and Ahn have become popular targets despite their advanced age and high compensation thresholds. With Lotte’s policy of going all out to retain them, competition is inevitable.
Also, both players were undervalued when they signed their free agent contracts four years ago. They are determined to prove their worth again over the past four years, so this free agency will be different. 캡틴토토 주소
Lotte will be starting over under new president Park Jun-hyuk and new head coach Kim Tae-hyung, but will they be able to keep their squad after the internal free agency crackdown?