KBO Increases Number of Foreign Players
South Korea’s Korean Baseball Organization (“KBO”) has formally approved an increase in the number of foreign players each team may have on their rosters from two to three (and four for expansion teams, the NC Dinos and the KT Wiz, the latter starting play in the Champions League in 2015). At least one of the three players must be a position player, and a maximum of two foreign players will be allowed to play on the field at the same time.
The results of the new foreign player rules will be significant. Each team will now field a foreign position player, a major change, given that all foreign players in the KBO in both 2012 and 2013 were pitchers. Needless to say, all of the foreign position players will go into the 2014 season as the presumptive starters, meaning they’ll play regularly unless or until they fail to perform.
A 50% increase in the number of foreign players should improve the quality of play in the KBO, which can only be good for South Korean baseball fans, although the league’s current expansion plans may cancel out the impact of more foreign stars. It should also be good for the league in the long run, even though foreign players cost more than South Korean players with the exception of veteran stars.
It is interesting that the KBO elected to increase the number of foreign players this season, given that attendance in the KBO dropped off significantly in 2013 after a record season in 2012. The main reason for the nearly 10% drop-off is generally believed to be South Korea’s poor performance in the 2013 World Baseball Classic (“WBC”), since South Korea’s success in the 2009 WBC was followed by four consecutive record-setting attendance seasons through 2012.
KBO’s owners are clearly thinking about the long-term, something for which baseball owners are not usually known. The KBO is in the process of expansion from an eight-team to a ten-team circuit, with the NC Dinos having begun play in the top league in 2013 and the KT Wiz set to begin play in 2015. Obviously, allowing each team to carry another foreign player (and two for the expansion teams) will prevent the dilution of talent that comes with expansion.
KBO salaries are increasing dramatically. This year’s free agent class received the three or four largest contracts in KBO history, which should cause bump-ups all the way down the KBO salary scale. The increase in salaries given to domestic players makes foreign players relatively more affordable.
Also, the KBO is now apparently offering contracts to newly-recruited foreign players comparable to what Japan’s NPB has been giving to all but the very best of its foreign recruits (although foreign players who have proven themselves in NPB obviously make more, given the NPB’s far greater financial resources). This means that the KBO is in a much better position to lure the best foreign players available to South Korea.