As the new season gets underway, the Giants have shaken up management in hopes of breaking the playoff curse that has kept them from advancing out of the first round three years in a row.
The biggest change for 2011 won’t be on the field, as Lotte hired former Korea University manager Yang Seung-ho to manage the team. Jerry Royster’s much-discussed contract situation ended with the manager parting ways with the Giants. Royster wanted a multi-year deal, but the Giants brass didn’t want to make that large of a commitment. All the guy did was completely change the culture of the team and lead them to the playoffs in all three seasons he managed.
As far as the on-field changes, Lotte was one of the few Korean teams to pull off a trade during the off-season. As part of a move designed to cut costs for the cash-strapped Nexen Heroes, Lotte dealt a pair of warm bodies for a competent starting pitcher. Infielder Park Jeong-joon and pitcher Lee Jeong-hoon were traded for starter Goh Won-joon. Goh went 5-7 with a 4.12 ERA in 131 innings last year. He’s only 20 years old, and showed a lot of promise with the Heroes in 2010. It’s recently been decided that Goh will serve as the new Lotte closer. His power arm is a much, much better option than any of the guys Royster was forced to use last year.
The new manager has also made a few changes to the lineup for the 2011 season. Hong Seong-heun will be patrolling left field this year, while outfielder Jeon Joon-woo has been moved to third base. Utility man Kim Ju-chan should get most of his playing time in center field this year. Lee Dae-ho will likely split time between DH and first base this year and backup outfielder Lee Seung-hwa will likely be the guy to take over Karim Garcia’s right field job.
Additionally, 24-year-old outfielder Kim Moon-ho has returned from his military service. He has a .704 OPS in 67 career at bats, and with numbers like that, he could be useful off the bench.
Shortstop Park Ki-hyuk is unlikely to return for the 2011 season. Park spent most of 2010 either injured or rehabbing with the futures team. Outside of Park’s “breakout” 2008 season, he has been consistently mediocre. There’s still an outside chance that Park could return with the Giants, but he’s currently recovering after ankle surgery and his 2011 season is in doubt.
Another injury that Lotte fans should worry about is the elbow injury suffered by starter Cho Jeong-hoon. Cho won 14 games in 2009, but was injured in May and went under the knife over the summer. He’s unlikely to pitch in 2011.
Lotte has also signed veteran righty Choi Hyang-nam to add bullpen depth. Choi was last seen in Korea in 2008, but he’s spent the past few seasons trying to find a bullpen job in the States. Choi spent 2010 with the Albuquerque Isotopes, posting a 5.84 ERA and 1.78 WHIP in 24? innings of relief. He’s also turning 40 this season, so his experience is a plus.
Ryan Sadowski will return to Lotte for a second season. Last year, he bounced back from early-season struggles to become one of the more reliable pitchers in the Lotte rotation and finished 10-8 with a 3.87 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 169? innings.
Unsurprisingly, Karim Garcia was not brought back to the Giants. Garcia was one of the two “foreign” spots allowed by the KBO for each team, and is being replaced by right-handed pitcher Bryan Corey. Corey spent 2010 in Japan with the Chiba Lotte Marines, where he posted a 4.87 ERA with 30 K's and 17 BB's over 44? innings last year. He’ll join Ryan Sadowski in the rotation, and based on his excellent preseason, he could be pressed into a lot of service.
The only other big news for the Giants during the off season was the problem with 2010 MVP Lee Dae-ho’s contract. Lee wanted a salary of 700 million won for the 2011 season, but the Giants offer was much less than the salary Lee wanted. The two sides went to arbitration and
it was announced that Lee would be paid 630 million won for the 2011 season. Now the question becomes: Why would Lee possibly want to stay with Lotte for the 2012 season? He has produced massively for the Giants, but he has been given the short end of the stick by Lotte
management for years. Lee will likely hop across the East Sea if he gets a big offer from a Japanese team next year. Who can blame him?
Lotte plays their home games at Sajik Stadium in Sajik-dong, and their new catch phrase for this year is "30 Years, in 2011, to the Top with Fans' Love!"
Trust me – it sounds better in Korean.
You can check out Matthew's popular blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball where he follows the entire KBO throughout the season.
Haps Giants English coverage, including the schedule's, is here.