They brought in a veteran manager with a winning record under the guidance of an owner who wants to play “winning baseball.” The Lotte Giants are clearly signaling that things are going to be different, starting with their owner, Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin. Add to that the group’s supportive fire.
Lotte hired Kim Tae-hyung as its 21st manager, a man who has won three Korean Series titles and advanced to the Korean Series seven years in a row. It was a decision made by Lotte and owner Shin Dong-bin to break the 31-year drought after not winning a championship since 1992. Until this year, the team had failed to advance to the fall baseball season for six consecutive years and hadn’t won a regular season title since the inception of professional baseball in 1982. 안전놀이터The desire to win must be even greater, and they decided to bring in a “winning hitman.
He will begin to get to know Lotte’s power and player base when he takes charge of the team’s final camp, which starts on May 25. Kim Tae-hyung is not one to underestimate the quality of his players, but in the end, he needs to see them from the inside and determine what they lack and where they need to be strengthened.
During this process, he can also talk about what the club needs. However, there is a vacancy for a head coach to take the lead in organizing the team. After the firing of Sung Min-kyu, the organization has yet to appoint a new head coach. However, if funds are needed, the group can inject funds ex officio.
The one-two punch of the batting lineup, irreplaceable Jeon Jun-woo and Ahn Chi-hong…cracking down on internal free agents first
The immediate need is to crack down on internal free agents. This year, veteran hitters Jeon Jun-woo (38) and Ahn Chi-hong (33) will be eligible for free agency at the same time. After the 2019 season, Jeon signed a four-year, 3.4 billion won contract. Ahn signed a 2+2 year deal worth up to 5.6 billion won. It was an unusual structure at the time, as it included a mutual option to extend the contract by mutual consent in 2021 at the end of the two-year contract, and if both the player and the club agreed, the contract could be extended for another two years and 3.1 billion won. Lotte and Ahn were happy with the two-year deal and decided early on to extend it for another two years during the 2021 season.
In the winter of 2019, the free agent market had gone cold. Neither Jeon Jun-woo nor Ahn Chi-hong had gotten much attention from the market and were undervalued due to the lack of competition. But far from being undervalued, they have been a huge part of the Lotte organization for the past four years.
With the departure of Kang Min-ho (Samsung) and Son Asub (NC) and the retirement of Lee Dae-ho, Jeon, who is virtually the only remaining franchise star, has played in 545 games over four years, batting .301 with 646 hits, 61 home runs, 333 RBIs, and an OPS of .839. Despite being in his late 30s, he was still one of the most productive players on the team. Over a four-year span, his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was 14.70, ranking 12th in the league and first in Lotte.
Despite being the youngest player on the team, his natural work ethic, coupled with a thorough workout regimen, led him to another strong year this year, as he batted .301 with 17 home runs, 77 RBIs, and an OPS of .852 in 138 games (493 at-bats, 154 hits). He was first on the team in batting average, home runs, and OPS. His leadership qualities make him irreplaceable on and off the field.
Ahn Chi-hong has also been solid in the four years since joining the team in 2020, batting .299 with 511 hits, 40 home runs, 257 RBIs, and a .791 OPS in 496 games. This year, he’s batting 2-for-9 in 121 games (124-for-425) with eight home runs, 63 RBIs, and a .774 OPS. He was the second most productive hitter behind Jeon Jun-woo at the plate.
While both Jeon and Ahn have question marks on defense, there are currently no resources to replace them on offense. For Lotte, whose overall offensive metrics were disappointing this year, including fifth in team batting average (.265), eighth in team OPS (.700), and ninth in team home runs (69), a weakened lineup is inevitable without Jeon and Ahn. It remains to be seen how Lotte will treat the two players who were relatively undervalued four years ago.
Irreplaceable bullpen ‘100-hold-100-save duo’ Koo Seung-min and Kim Won-joong to become free agents after 2024 season
While the irreplaceable players in the bullpen are eligible for free agency this year, the irreplaceable resources in the bullpen are entering their pre-free agency season. Koo Seung-min (33), who became the first Lotte pitcher to record 100 saves and the second player in KBO history to record 20 saves in four consecutive years, and Kim Won-joong (30), a stalwart closer who also became the first Lotte pitcher to record 100 saves, will be eligible for free agency after this season.
Koo Seung-min and Kim Won-joong are the bullpen’s equivalent of Jeon Jun-woo and Ahn Chi-hong. They have become pillars of the pitching staff, serving as leaders in the bullpen. Despite struggling with a shoulder injury at the end of the season, Koo finished the year with a 2-6 record in 67 games, 63⅔ innings pitched, three saves, 22 holds, and a 3.96 ERA. He has been irreplaceable in 265 games since 2020 after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow in 2019.
Kim Won-joong also blossomed as a closer in 2020 after failing to land a starting job. In four years, he has a record of 16-16, 2-2, 107 saves in 225 games with a 3.58 ERA. This year, he is 5-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 63 games and 63⅔ innings pitched with 30 saves.
With no immediate replacements for Koo Seung-min and Kim Won-joong, and their leadership roles on the team, the team should start thinking about their contracts early. Signing a free agent bullpen pitcher is a bit risky, but it should be approached with the idea of holding onto internal resources.
Kim Tae-hyung’s protégés hit the free agent market…generous salary cap, owner support?
Lotte has missed the postseason in all four years under Sung Min-kyu, but if there’s a silver lining, it’s that the club has drastically reduced its total salary cap. In 2019, the total salary cap for registered players (excluding rookies and foreigners) was 10.083 billion won, but by 2022, it will be 5.898 billion won.
The team’s success in salary dumping has given it more room to maneuver in the free agent market, and last year it signed a number of free agents, including Yoo Kang-nam (4 years, 8 billion won), Noh Jin-hyuk (4 years, 5 billion won), and Han Hyun-hee (3+1 years, up to 4 billion won). It also signed homegrown ace Park Se-woong to a non-free agent multi-year contract worth up to 9 billion won for five years. This year, the team’s total salary increased by 24.6% from last year to 7.102 billion won. However, this is still only the sixth highest among the 10 clubs. The salary cap for the three years starting in 2023 is 11.4268 billion won. Lotte can still afford to invest. Right now, this year’s free agents, Jeon Jun-woo and Ahn Chi-hong, have salaries of 500 million won each.
Aside from Jeon and Ahn, there are no big-name players who are eligible for free agency. Pitchers Im Chan-kyu and Ham Deok-ju (LG), Kim Jae-yoon (KT), Hong Gun-hee (Doosan), catchers Kim Min-sik (SSG) and Lee Ji-young (Kiwoom), and infielders Yang Seok-hwan (Doosan) and Kim Sun-bin (KIA). There are no notable free agents, but there are Ham Deok-ju, Hong Gun-hee, and Yang Seok-hwan, who were with Kim Tae-hyung. The outfield is relatively well-resourced, and there are some areas that need to be organized. It is also possible that the pitching staff will target free agents.
When Kim Tae-hyung was manager of Doosan, except for Jang Won-jun (4 years, 8.4 billion won) in 2015, he didn’t get the support he deserved and the main free agents would leave. This time will be different. Shin Dong-bin may have a big inaugural gift for him.