What Do Foreign Players Make in South Korea’s KBO?
While I’ve been a fan of mykbo.net for some time, I only today discovered that Dan provides not only foreign player stats (which can also be found at KBO’s English language website) but also their current salary figures. While KBO teams are notorious in seasons past for lying about what they were playing their foreign stars, if anyone is going to have accurate information, it’s Dan at mykbo.net.
Now, I am assuming that signing bonuses are in addition to the annual salaries. Signing bonuses for some players are substantial, which leads me to believe that salaries are not guaranteed, i.e., if a player gets cut during the season for injury or poor performance, he doesn’t get paid any more. However, this does not mean that some player contracts are not guaranteed — it depends on the particular contract, and may explain why some players don’t get signing bonuses at all.
Also, as far as I’m aware, foreign players in KBO only get single year contracts, although that may change in the near future as the league’s level of play continues to improve, and Japanese NPB teams continue to poach the KBO’s top performers. Here’s the list for 2015 (pitchers are noted with a (P) — KBO teams can currently have 3 foreign players on their rosters, which as a practical matter means two pitchers and one position player:
1. Dustin Nippert (P), $1.6 million.
2. Jack Hanrahan, $1 million.*
3. Josh Lindblom (P), $900,000.
4. Eric Thames, $850,000.
4. Charlie Shirek (P), $850,000.
6. Andrew Brown, $800,000.
7. Yamaico Navarro, $750,000.**
8. Nyjer Morgan, $700,000.*
8. Esmil Rogers (P), $700,000.
8. Alfred Figaro (P), $700,000.
8. Lucas Harrell (P), $700,000.
12. Andy Van Hekken (P), $680,000.
13. Jim Adduci, $650,000.
13. Tyler Cloyd (P), $650,000
* Jack Hanrahan and Nyjer Morgan both received substantial signing bonuses, suggesting to me that the rest of their contracts were not guaranteed. Neither played much in 2015, suggesting to me that both may have been cut and earned less than the numbers listed above.
** Some sources reported that Yamaico Navarro was actually paid $950,000, plus another $400,000 in performance bonuses, for the 2015 season. In other words, there is still some controversy regarding whether the contract numbers reported by KBO teams are accurate.
The main factors in understanding the above salary figures are: (1) KBO experience and past performance; (2) KBO team playing for; and (3) past and possible future level of MLB success. Dustin Nippert is the best paid player in KBO because 2015 was his 5th KBO season, he has been successful both in KBO and MLB, and his team, the Doosan Bears, is one of KBO’s wealthiest. Unfortunately for Nippert, his ERA in 2015 rose for the fifth straight season, and I think he would have to accept a drastic pay cut in 2015, if he returns to KBO at all.
Andy Van Hekken, on the other hand, is probably the most underpaid foreign player, relative to his past KBO experience and performance, simply because his team, the Nexen Heroes, is not a wealthy or generous team. Unlike NPB, where foreign players who perform well can jump to one of NPB’s three rich teams after typically two NPB seasons, KBO teams hold the exclusive rights (in KBO) to their foreign players until the player would be able to become a KBO free agent (8 or 9 seasons). Van Hekken is stuck with being underpaid, unless an NPB team comes calling.
Foreign players signed at the start of the KBO season almost all make at least $300,000. Only players brought in later in the season after another foreigner has washed out make less than $300,000. When you remember that in 2015, there were only 31 roster spots in total for foreign players in KBO, you can see that foreigners make pretty good money playing in KBO, enough at least that it is clearly more financially rewarding to play in KBO than in AAA, even with brief MLB call-ups thrown in.