The KBO opened its free agency market on April 19. The Doosan Bears are expected to make a move to retain ‘house rabbits’ Yang Seok-hwan and Hong Gun-hee.
Under Kim Tae-hyung’s leadership, Doosan has suffered from an annual power outage. While the team was able to retain “signature hitters” such as Kim Jae-hwan, Heo Kyung-min, and Jeong Soo-bin, they were unable to convince all players to stay. This was not limited to the free agency market. The secondary draft has also seen a number of players leave the team.굿모닝토토
However, last year and this year, there wasn’t much of an outflow of talent. In fact, last year’s draft was a net gain. In the first round of free agency, the team succeeded in bringing back former NC Dinos player Yang “Gomtal Fox” Ji, signing a 4+2 year contract totaling 15.2 billion won. They gave up Lee Hyung-beom and Song Seung-hwan in the second round of the draft, but minimized the loss of power by bringing in Kim Ki-yeon from the LG Twins.
Doosan has undergone a major overhaul since the end of last season. They handed the reins over to ‘National Hitter’ Lee Seung-yeop and replaced all of their foreign players. As a result, the team finished fifth in the regular season this year with 74 wins, 2 draws, 68 losses, and a winning percentage of 0.521, and made a short but successful run back to the Fall League, playing the NC Dinos in the Wild Card (WC) deciding game. If the challenge for Stovrig last season was to add strength, this winter it will be to maintain the minimum.
This year, Doosan lost Yang Seok-hwan and Hong Gun-hee to free agency. Yang, who was selected by the LG Twins with the 28th overall pick in the second round of the 2014 KBO Draft, was traded to Doosan after the 2020 season, and has blossomed since changing teams. In his first season with the team, Yang hit .273 with a .827 OPS, including 28 arches, and in 2022, he batted just .244 with 20 home runs.
His numbers this season before free agency weren’t bad either. In 140 games, Yang hit .281 with 147 hits, 89 RBIs, 73 runs scored, and a .787 OPS. He also hit 21 home runs this year, marking the third consecutive year that he reached the 20-homer plateau. The fact that he has the power to hit 20+ home runs despite calling Jamsil, the largest ballpark in the KBO, home is a clear advantage for Yang. Yang’s retention is essential for Doosan, which has suffered from “big bat thirst” due to Kim Jae-hwan’s struggles this year.
Hong Gun-hee, like Yang, has blossomed since moving to Doosan. In 2021, Hong had a career-high season with a 6-6 record, 17 saves, and a 2.78 ERA in 65 appearances, and last year, when he became a full-fledged closer, he posted a 2-9 record, 9 saves, and a 3.48 ERA in 19 appearances. This year, despite several late-season jitters, he finished with a 1-5 record, five saves, and a 3.06 ERA. For Doosan, Hong is as indispensable as Yang Seok-hwan.
Doosan hasn’t made any active moves since the free agency market opened, and now it’s expected to get busy cracking down on “house rabbits. Even if it is difficult to sign outside free agents given the ‘salary cap’, the team is determined to keep both Yang Seok-hwan and Hong Gun-hee. Speaking to reporters after the second round of the draft on April 22, Kim Tae-ryong was asked about free agents and said, “We’ll talk about it after the second round. I only exchanged greetings with their agents. We didn’t talk about the amount of money.”
The second round of the draft is over and it’s time to make moves. In order to do better than this year, it is also essential to maintain the current strength. “We need to grab all the internal free agents,” said Kim Tae-ryong. “If the difference in price is not too big, we should grab both Yang Seok-hwan and Hong Gun-hee,” Kim emphasized. Will Doosan be able to win the hearts of both Hong and Yang Seok-hwan, who are both hot commodities in the market?