Asian Teams Don’t Show Their Mercenaries Much Love

The Asian major leagues (NPB, KBO and CPBL) are an avenue for players who don’t quite have what it takes to be MLB stars to make big money and become big stars playing baseball.  However, being a foreign ballplayer on an Asian team is a tenuous existence that doesn’t provide much room for error.

This is on my mind today because the NC Dinos of South Korea’s KBO have announced that they won’t be bringing back Eric Hacker in 2018.  Hacker has over the last three seasons established himself as one of the best foreign pitchers in the KBO’s history, and he pitched well in 2017.

Hacker’s 3.42 ERA was third best among qualifiers in a ten-team league, and he went 12-7.  His strikeout rate dropped sharply last year from 7.6 the year before to 5.4 in 2017, but he still had a K/BB rate of 3.3.  His other numbers, his KBO history and his relatively low salary ($650,000 in 2017) all suggest that he should have been given a contract for 2018.

Eric Hacker will be 35 in 2018, and the Dinos may have decided that he’s likely to drop off in 2018.  The Dinos also elected not to re-sign Jeff Manship, who will be 33 next year, in spite of the fact that Manship went 12-4 with a 3.67 ERA in 2017.  However, Manship was at the top of the KBO salary scale for foreign pitchers, making a reported $1.8 million in 2017, and he missed eight or nine starts due to injury.  KBO teams expect exceptional performance and health from foreigners being paid what Manship was paid.

The Dinos have signed Logan Verritt for $800,000 instead.  Verritt will be 28 in 2018.  There’s no guarantee, though, that he’ll be an adequate replacement for either Hacker or Manship, in light of the fact that his 2017 performance in the International League and his career minor league record aren’t particularly impressive.

Earlier this off-season, the Nexen Heroes made a similar decision not to bring Andy Van Hekken back for 2018.  Van Hekken also has a tremendous career KBO record, and while he will be 38 in 2018, he struck out just better than a batter per inning in 2017.  Van Hekken missed qualifying for the KBO ERA title by 5.2 innings pitched, but his 3.77 ERA was 10th best in the circuit among pitchers who pitched at least 135 innings (the KBO plays a 144 game schedule).  He made a reported $930,000 in 2017, which is also affordable for a pitcher of his KBO accomplishments.

Instead, the Nexen Heroes elected to sign 32 year old Esmil Rogers to a $1.5 million deal for next season.  Rogers had a great half season in the KBO in 2015, but then blew out his elbow tendon in 2016.  He pitched well in seven late season starts for AAA Syracuse this past season, but hasn’t been particularly impressive in five starts in the Dominican Winter League so far.  Trading in Van Hekken on Rogers seems like a case of the grass always being greener to me.

There is certainly a reasonable possibility that either or both Hacker and Van Hekken will receive offers from other KBO teams this off-season.  Still, it is mystifying to see pitchers who pitched as well as they pitched in 2017 for the amounts they were paid not to get invited back for another season.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO

4 Comments on “Asian Teams Don’t Show Their Mercenaries Much Love”

  1. Burly Says:

    Michael Bowden has announced he won’t be returning to the Doosan Bears in 2018. He was hurt, limiting him to 17 starts, and wasn’t effective enough in 2017 for the $1.1M or $1.2M he was reportedly paid. He was terrific in 2016, going 18-7 and helping the Bears win the 2016 Korea Series, but KBO teams expect greatness every year if they are paying the foreigner $1 million-plus.

  2. Burly Says:

    The SK Wyverns announced the signing of pitcher Angel Sanchez for $1.1 million. It seems like a lot for a pitcher with Sanchez’ limited MLB pedigree.

  3. Burly Says:

    Yonhap (via reported last December that Eric Hacker’s 2017 contract was for $1 million, a lot more than either KBO’s website or state.. However, the $1 million amount seems more in line with Hacker’s years of KBO service and performance and the fact that the NC Dinos have decided not to bring him back for 2018..

  4. Burly Says:

    The Doosan Bears won’t be bringing back their foreign ace Dustin Nippert in 2018, instead electing to sign the suddenly available Josh Lindblom for $1.45 million, a considerable savings from the $2.2 million the Bears paid Nippert in 2017.

    It’s not often that three veteran aces coming off successful seasons all get canned in the same off-season. It may reflect that the recent escalation of KBO salaries over the last five off-seasons is causing KBO teams to re-trench this off-season with more affordable foreign pitchers.

    There are still six KBO roster spots left unfilled, at least in terms of what has been announced to the public, but it’s looking like the KBO careers of Dustin NIppert, Eric Hacker and Andy Van Hekken might all be over.

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