Here’s an article from South Korean media source Joonjang which lists the five biggest one-year salaries foreign players have earned in South Korea’s KBO. While there is always some controversy regarding what KBO teams are actually paying their “mercenaries,” i.e., foreign stars, Joonjang’s numbers look accurate based on what I’ve heard reported before.
Esmil Rodgers reportedly received the largest one-year deal at $1.9 million last year. However, his team, the Hanwha Eagles cut him half way through the 2016 after injuries limited him to a 4.30 ERA in six starts, meaning most likely that Rodgers received no more than half of the $1.9 million.
Foreign players are reportedly limited to one-year deals in the KBO, which makes them a relative bargain compared to KBO domestic free agents, the best of whom are now receiving deals of about $8 million over four years. However, it was widely reported that Eric Thames signed a two-year deal for $3 million total before the 2015 season. Given the season he had in 2015 when he was KBO’s best hitter, the fact that he only made $1.5 million in 2016, and didn’t jump to Japan’s NPB or back to MLB for more money tends to confirm that he did indeed have a two-year deal with the NC Dinos.
Hector Noesi and Dustin Nippert, who were two of the KBO’s three best starters in 2016, are expected to make $2 million each in 2017. Nippert in particular deserves the raise. He was the KBO’s MVP in 2016, led the Doosan Bears to their second consecutive Korean Series victory, and he’s now put in six full KBO seasons, a tremendously long time for a foreigner in a culture and league that highly value long years of service.
Add to these facts that the Doosan Bears are probably the KBO’s wealthiest team, and you would think that they’d have no problem giving Nippert a record-setting deal. You would then be guessing wrong. Doosan Bears’ officials have been carping and back-biting Nippert in the South Korean media over his agent’s salary demands, which is more than a little unfair given the loyalty and performance Nippert has shown the team over the last six years.
It would be a shame if Nippert’s relationship with the Bears went south due to the team’s stinginess and lack of class. However, in the KBO, unlike in NPB, the teams own their foreign players’ rights for nine seasons, which does not allow Nippert to seek a deal with another KBO team.
Nippert could jump to the NPB, but going into his age 36 season, he’s old to be making the jump to a better league. Also, Nippert married a South Korean woman in 2015 after divorcing his first wife several years ago, and he has publicly stated that he wants to end his professional baseball career with the Doosan Bears.