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.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball Abroad

14 Comments on “What Do Foreign Players Make in South Korea’s KBO?”

  1. Burly Says:

    Dustin Nippert has pitched extremely well in the penultimate stage of the KBO playoffs against the 2nd place NC Dinos, which may well convince the Doosan Bears he’s worth the big money for 2016.

    • Burly Says:

      After seven shut out innings in his first 2015 Korea Series start, Nippert has now set a KBO post-season record with 24.1 consecutive scoreless innings pitched. It’s now hard to imagine the Bears not re-signing him given the value baseball teams everywhere place on post-season performance, even if as Nippert admits, great post-season performance is often just a matter of getting hot at the right time.

      • Burly Says:

        Doosan reports re-signing Nippert for $1.2 million for 2016, $300,000 less than he made last year. Doosan, of course, could be under-reporting the amount of the contract.

  2. Burly Says:

    A recent report says that the Kia Tigers just signed former White Sox starter Hector Noesi for $2M for 2016. If true, it would make him the highest paid foreign player in the KBO as of this moment.

  3. Burly Says:

    Dan at mykbo.net says that Eric Thames is actually going into the second of a two-year contract that will pay him $3M, or $1.5M per season. The numbers reported in the post from mykbo.net’s website are apparently what the KBO teams reported, not what they are actually paying in all cases.

  4. Burly Says:

    Eric Hacker reportedly just signed with the NC Dinos for $900K for 2016, double what the Dinos reported they paid him in 2015. Both reported numbers are quite likely less than what Hacker was or will be paid.

  5. Burly Says:

    The KBO free agent signing period is underway. While the youngest, and thus most valuable, free agents haven’t signed yet, veteran KBO superstars Kim Tae-kyun and Lee Seung-heop have signed the two most lucrative deals, at least on an annualized basis so far. Kim will be getting 8.4 billion won ($7.28M) over four years, and Lee will be getting 3.6 billion won (3.12M) over two years.

    • Burly Says:

      Park Suk-min and Jung Woo-ram just signed lucrative four year deals, the maximum length for domestic free agents. Park will get a guaranteed 8.6 billion won ($7.48 million) plus another billion won in performance bonuses, and Jung will receive a total of 8.4 billion won ($7.30 million, up $20,000 from yesterday according to Coinmill).

  6. Burly Says:

    The Hanwha Eagles announced they have re-signed Esmil Rodgers for 2016 for $1.9M. Dan at mykbo.net thinks Rodgers may actually be getting more. However, $1.9M is likely more than Rodgers could have got jumping to Japan’s NPB (yakyu baka reported the Rakuten Golden Eagles were interested), at least initially, and it’s hard to imagine a contract for much more given the KBO’;s revenue streams and Rodgers’ other legitimate options.

    • Burly Says:

      Dan says he has heard reports that the Rakuten Golden Eagles offered Rodgers more than $2M, so maybe Rodgers is getting more than $2M from the Hanwha Eagles. No way to know if teams or players associations are not publishing accurate contract numbers and terms.

  7. Burly Says:

    Yamaico Navarro just signed a reported $1.2 million one-year deal with the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan’s NPB after failing to reach agreement with the Samsung Lions.

  8. Burly Says:

    South Korea’s Joongang newspaper reports that average salaries for foreign players (with 29 of 31 possible roster spots filled) in 2016 is $870,000, up from an average of $660,000 in 2015. Questions remain regarding whether salaries reported by KBO teams are accurate, but it is probably accurate that average salaries for foreigners are up more than 25% from a year ago.

    • Burly Says:

      The Joonjang article says that KBO teams only report the signing bonus and annual salary, not incentives, which may explain differences in reported amounts.

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