Giants Fans Angered at Loss of Kim and Hong to Free Agency, Point to Larger Problems
BUSAN, South Korea — It’s been 20 years since the Lotte Giants last won the title, and the way the front office has run the team over the past few years, local fans are left scratching their heads as to what, if any, strategy for winning is in place.
In what’s being viewed as another offseason blunder, the Giants let two of their fan-favorite players—Kim Ju-Chan and Hong Seung-hoon—sign with other clubs after half-heartedly addressing the player’s demands.
Lotte fans flooded social media sites over the past two days with angry messages directed at team management, with one commentor on the Giants’ Facebook group asking, ‘Is this the beginning of the Dark Ages?’
“They said, ‘We will see what other clubs do,’ and I said, ‘Why do you look at other teams? Please be a front-runner in investment.’”
Following the embarrassing loss of superstar Lee Dae-ho last year to Japan, fans are angered at why, for the second year in a row, the team would allow the loss of more of the offensive power that brought them from cellar-dwellars just six years ago, to near title contenders.
The saga continues
Kim was the first to be lured away this off-season, signing a four-year contract worth 2 billion won (500 million per season) along with a 2.6 billion won signing bonus, with the KIA Tigers. The outfielder batted .294 last season with an impressive 27 doubles, five homers and 39 RBIs.
The loss of Hong was the bigger shock to fans, after Lotte once again declined to meet the demands of a star player, choosing instead to let them walk rather than keeping the core of the squad intact.
Hong signed a four-year deal worth 3.1 billion won guaranteed over four years with the Doosan Bears, after Lotte failed to meet his four-year 3.4-billion-won demand, offering him only 2.5 billion over four years.
Losing major players over financial disputes once again shows trouble at Lotte—a team that has consistently broken attendance records over the past several years.
This echoes fan grief from last years loss of Lee Dae-ho to a two-year, 10.1-billion-won deal with Japan, after low-balling the slugger with a four-year 8.7-million deal to stay on with the team at the end of last season.
Fans saw this as ungrateful, if not strategically unwise, considering his twice winning the league’s MVP award and winning the triple crown while leading the league in seven offensive categories, not to mention being one of Korean baseball’s most popular faces.
Following the heartbreaking loss of Lee Dae-ho, former Lotte manager Jerry Royster recalled in an exclusive interview with Haps how Lee, arguably one of the game’s best players ever, was treated poorly over the years before his departure.
“He said that he would not forget what they did those years and would not sign when his free agent year came around,” Royster said. “I think a lot had to do with the fact that Lotte tried to low-ball him in 2009, and tried to cut his salary in 2010 after he won the Triple Crown.”
Another former manager lashes out at front office
Recently departed coach Yang Seung-ho blasted Lotte last week with a not-so-kind assessment of the front office, a month after speculation of a falling out with the club which saw him supposedly resign.
“In the early part of the season, some players stepped up, such as [pitchers] Kim Sung-bae and Choi Dae-sung, and I thought maybe we could finish in the top four,’ Yang told the Joongang Ilbo.
‘Then the club began to talk way too much about winning the title. So I told them, ‘Stop it. It will put pressure on the players as well. Any manager would want to win and I know that winning brings honor and wealth as well. So, as a man, I will take responsibility if I fail to win.’”
Yang also criticized the team for not adding more pitching depth, which he attributes to the downfall against SK in the semifinals.
“They said, ‘We will see what other clubs do,’” according to Yang. “And I said, ‘Why do you look at other teams? Please be a front-runner in investment.’”
Yang finished his two-year stint with the Giants compiling a 137-118-11 record after taking over the helm from Jerry Royster, who also failed to deliver a finals appearance with the club. Lotte recently signed former Nexen manager Kim Si-jin to take over the duties at for the Giants, who last won the league title in 1992.
In some good news for the club, the team did re-sign ace lefty Shane Youman to a new contract for next season worth 375 million won, though the American pitcher can’t officially sign until after December 1.