KBO’s Lotte Giants Sign Star Catcher Kang Min-Ho to Record Contract
The Korean Baseball Organization’s (“KBO”) Lotte Giants re-signed their free agent catcher Kang Min-Ho to a record four-year, 7.5 billion won deal, which at current exchange rates comes to approximately $7 million. Kang will reportedly receive a signing bonus worth roughly $3 million and $1 million annual salaries.
Kang is 28 years old (turns 29 next August) and was the best KBO free agent among position players this off-season. He’s hit .305, .292 and .289 in his three best seasons and hit between 19 and 23 HRs in a season four times.
However, in 2013 Kang had his worst season since becoming an everyday player in 2006, batting only .235 and slugging only 11 HRs, apparently as a result of injuries that limited him to 105 games, his lowest total since 2009.
The largest KBO contract I’d heard about previously was the approximately $708,000 paid to Lee Seung-yeop in 2012 by the Samsung Lions upon Lee’s return to KBO after eight seasons played in Japan’s NPB. Lee had set the KBO’s single-season home run record with 56 in 2003, his last season before going to Japan.
However, salaries of foreign players reportedly often greatly exceed the KBO’s official salary caps. Nevertheless, the overall amount of Kang’s new contract is a surprise even though the Lotte Giants said they intended to make him a record-setting offer.
Also, while Lotte traditionally leads the KBO in attendance by a wide margin, the team’s attendance was down very sharply in 2013. Giants’ attendance was down 44% from what was likely an all-time KBO best of 1.37 million fans in 2012 to only 770,000 fans in 2013, which was only fourth best in the KBO this season. I guess Lotte believes that its 2013 attendance decline was simply a one-year aberration.
We’ll see what effect this contract has on KBO team salary structures. It’s hard to see how KBO teams can hand out contracts like this one, even if only to the very best players, when average per game attendance was only 11,284 this past season and only 13,451 in 2012, when the KBO set its all-time record for average per game attendance.