“I think this is the standard for a free agent (FA) contract,” said
a team official about catcher Lee Ji-young (37, Kiwoom Heroes).
Lee Ji-young’s annual salary for the 2023 season is 500 million won. It rose by 66.7% (200 million won) compared to the previous year, becoming the second highest annual salary in the team after star outfielder Lee Jung-hoo (1.1 billion won). Among the Kiwoom players, only three players received an annual salary increase of more than 200 million won: Lee Jung-hoo (350 million won increase), pitcher An Woo-jin (200 million won increase), and Lee Ji-young.
The reason Lee Ji-young’s annual salary draws attention is that he was a ‘general contract renewal target’. Lee Ji-young’s 3-year free agent (FA) contract, which she signed in November 2019 after the end of last season, has expired. He was one year short of reacquisition of FA qualification (4 years), and had to sign a general annual salary contract for 2023. It was predicted that it would be difficult to be offered good conditions due to the nature of the position, which is not a small age in the late 30s and is easily exposed to the aging curve (a phenomenon that leads to a decline in athletic ability when a certain age is reached). But he was a fool. Rather, he received more money than his annual salary (300 million won) during his free agency contract. 500 million won is his highest personal salary in one season.
Lee Ji-young was the main character of the ‘2020 FA contract No. 1’. At that time, I negotiated with Kiwoom, the original team, in a quick battle. Although he was able to hold out for four years of his contract, he avoided a war of attrition. As a result, he quickly signed for 3 years and up to 1.8 billion won (down payment of 300 million won, annual salary of 300 million won, and option up to 600 million won). Subtracting the option reduces his guaranteed amount to 1.2 billion won. It was a relatively low amount considering the atmosphere of the FA market where billions of won come and go. At the time, Kim Chi-hyeon, the general manager of Kiwoom, said, “We quickly met the conditions by calling frequently without measuring.”
Lee Ji-young kept the home of Kiwoom firmly during the FA contract period. In his last season, he appeared in 137 games, had a batting average of .267 (112 hits in 420 at-bats), two home runs, and 37 RBIs. In his 7 years, he had a solid performance, hitting triple digit hits. He didn’t have outstanding performance, but he led the young pitching staff and contributed a lot in both offense and defense. His defensive innings were 994 and 2/3 innings, which was second in the league following Yoo Kang-nam (Lotte Giants, 1008 and 1/3 innings), and the number of stolen bases was 33, followed by Choi Jae-hoon (Hanwha Eagles, 34 innings). The stealing rate was 33%, ranking third after Yang Eui-ji (Doosan Bears, 42.2%) and Park Dong-won (LG Twins, 36.1%). Kiwoom, who had room in the home, strengthened his vulnerable position by using another catcher, Park Dong-won, as a trade card during the season. 메이저놀이터
Lee Ji-young’s performance was a highlight in the postseason (PS). From the first game of the semi-playoff (junPO) with KT Wiz to the final game 6 of the Korean Series (KS) with SSG Landers, Kiwoom kept the home as a starter in all 15 PS games played. He played all 10 games ‘full-time’ in the playoffs (PO) and KS. Forgetting his age, his presence led to the final entry of the World Baseball Classic (WBC), and at the age of 37 he reached his first professional Taegeuk mark. He did not lose out in the competition with outstanding juniors including Yoo Kang-nam and Park Dong-won. National team coach Lee Kang-cheol said of Lee Ji-young, “Last year, while watching PS, KS was old but moved well. I consulted with Jin Gap-yong battery coach. Basically, he is hardworking and sincere.
Lee Ji-young did not see the light as a ‘backup catcher’ for quite a long time. But in recent years, their influence has changed dramatically. An official from a club praised him as “a number of players whose performance plummeted after signing an FA contract, but Lee Ji-young was an exception. Considering his age and contract amount, his performance was ‘real’. He was a model free agent.”