(LEAD) Korean series champions KT Wiz sign ex-MVP Park Byung-ho in free agency

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By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, 29 Dec. (Yonhap) – Defending South Korean baseball champions KT Wiz signed a double MVP Park Byung-ho in free agency on Wednesday, adding a veteran bat to a powerful lineup in their repeat offering.

The Wiz said Park, once one of the Korea Baseball Organization’s (KBO) most feared hitters, accepted a three-year contract worth 3 billion won ($ 2.5 million ). Park had been playing for the Kiwoom Heroes since 2011, following a mid-season trade with the LG Twins, with the exception of a two-season stint with the Minnesota Twins.

Wiz added that Park will receive 2 billion won in total salary, 700 million won in signing bonuses and up to 300 million won in incentives.

Park, a five-time homerun king, won regular season MVP honors in 2012 and 2013 and had at least 20 home runs in each of his past eight seasons.

Prior to going overseas, Park had 52 homers in 2014 and 53 dingers in 2015, becoming the first KBO player to pitch 50 or more homers in consecutive seasons.

The 35-year-old has had some tough times lately. He has hit just 0.227 in 118 games this year, placing dead last among 54 hitters who qualified. It only hit a clip of 0.430, its lowest on record in a full season.

Last year, Park was limited to 93 games due to injury. He still had 21 home runs and 66 RBIs.

For his career, Park has 327 home runs and 956 RBIs in 1,314 games. Much of that production has come since Park, a 2004 LG Twins draft pick, first became an everyday player in 2012, his first full campaign with the Heroes.

Since 2012, Park has been ranked second in the KBO with 290 circuits and 844 RBIs.

By signing Park, who was in Class C among free agents, the Wiz must pay the heroes 2.25 billion won, or 1.5 times Park’s previous salary, in compensation.

Park will become the next wise veteran of the Wiz clubhouse, following the retirement of 40-year-old Yoo Han-joon.

Yoo, a former Wiz captain, has only hit five home runs in 104 regular-season games this year, but still beat 0.309 with a 0.409 basis percentage. Yoo was also an extremely popular teammate and fan favorite, known for his uncompromising work ethic.

Park might not match Yoo’s batting average, but he brings about the same reputation, as a well-respected veteran who exudes professionalism.

“I am delighted to join the Champions and I want to thank the Wiz for the contract,” said Park. “I will try to help the team win another title next year.”

Park posted two pages of a handwritten letter to his agency’s Instagram page, thanking Heroes fans for their support over the past decade.

“Things haven’t turned out the way I wanted them to for the past two years, and I’ve been disappointed in myself,” Park wrote. “I’m sure you were all upset and I’m sorry I didn’t live up to your expectations. I’m grateful that the KT Wiz has always held me in high regard, and now I’ll try to reward their trust. . “

Although he was drafted by LG, it was as a member of the Heroes that Park became a superstar. He was also able to play in the majors when the Heroes agreed to post him after the 2015 season.

“I was able to grow as a ball player because of the heroes’ unwavering support. I played on the Korean series with the team and even realized my dream of playing for the majors,” Park wrote. “I will never forget what the Heroes have meant to me and all the love you have given me over the years.”

KT general manager Lee Soong-yong said Park will slip into the heart of the roster next year, and added that Park’s leadership will play a major role on and off the pitch as well.

Park will most likely hit behind Kang Baek-ho, becoming one of the KBO’s top hitters at 22. Kang flirted with a 0.400 batting average this year before finishing with a still strong mark of 0.347, the KBO’s third-highest. . He also scored 102 points, a career high, to place second overall in the category. Kang was also in the top five for hits, doubles, goals, percentage on basis and percentage of hits.

Kang is the Wiz’s daily first baseman. Park will likely serve as the designated hitter and spell Kang at first base every now and then.

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