Top baseball league mulling abolishing salary cap on foreign players: official

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Dec. 20 (Yonhap) -- General managers in the top domestic baseball league are considering abolishing the salary cap imposed on foreign players, a senior league official said Friday, after a series of offseason transactions raised questions about the rule's effectiveness.

According to Yang Hae-young, secretary general of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), general managers of the 10 clubs agreed "in principle" to get rid of the current cap of US$300,000 during their meeting this week. Yang insisted, however, that no immediate change is forthcoming.

"The officials will try to come up with a series of alternatives, such as introducing a foreign player tryout or increasing the salary cap," Yang said. "We will all discuss them at a separate meeting (of the general managers) early next month."

Should the general managers draft a motion for change in their meeting, scheduled for Jan. 7, then the team presidents will convene a board meeting at a later date to complete the revision.

The KBO first opened its doors to foreign players in 1998, with their initial salary cap set at $120,000. The figure was raised to $200,000 in 1999 and then to $300,000 in 2004.

Foreign players may only be signed to one-year contracts, and if they are to be renewed, their annual salary must not be raised by more than 25 percent.

League officials have said they put the cap in place to prevent wealthier clubs from signing expensive stars and to avoid excessive salary inflation.

In recent years, however, the KBO clubs have faced allegations that they weren't honoring the salary cap and that they were paying their imported stars more money under the table. An official with a KBO team, requesting anonymity, told Yonhap News Agency that it was the "worst kept secret in the league" that teams were not abiding by the salary cap. Also, foreign newspapers or beat writers of the players' former minor league teams have often revealed the new signees' salary figures that easily exceeded the cap.

The KBO's decision last week to add an extra roster spot for foreign players, starting in 2014, set off a flurry of offseason signings, as clubs scrambled to add an experienced arm or bat. Teams can now carry up to three foreigners on their active rosters. The NC Dinos and the KT Wiz, the two expansion teams, can have a maximum of four foreign players in their first two seasons.

New faces this winter include former Major League Baseball (MLB) regulars such as Jorge Cantu, who signed with the Doosan Bears, and Luke Scott, who joined the SK Wyverns.

In both cases, teams said they signed their player for $250,000 in annual salary along with another $50,000 in signing bonus.

Scott made $2.75 million with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013, and skeptical fans didn't believe the veteran, with more than 100 homers in both the major and minor leagues, would take such a huge pay cut to play in the KBO.

Cantu, who last played in the majors in 2011 with the San Diego Padres, made $850,000 that year. In 2010 with the Florida (now Miami) Marlins, Cantu earned $6 million.

Cantu even retweeted an earlier message by a Mexican journalist who claimed that Cantu had signed for $600,000 with the Bears, and that the player could make up to $1 million with performance-based incentives.

Two pitchers are returning to the KBO for their fourth seasons here: right-hander Radhames Liz of the LG Twins and right-hander Dustin Nippert of the Bears. When these teams announced their decisions to retain the pitchers, they didn't disclose the amount of the players' new contracts.

According to the KBO, the general managers agreed that they should be more transparent about their foreign player contracts. They discussed raising the cap to $500,000 or $1 million or abolishing it all together, since having any sort of a cap wouldn't have the desired effect.

Another potential alternative that was discussed was to bring back the open tryout for foreign players, according to the KBO. In that case, the KBO would accept applications from interested players, and then teams would gather to watch them before selecting them in a draft.

The KBO held tryouts in 1998 and 1999, the first two seasons in which teams were allowed to acquire foreign players, before adopting the current free agency system in 2000.

The top basketball league, the Korean Basketball League (KBL), holds tryouts for foreign players each offseason. In July this year, 110 players showcased themselves before the 10 KBL teams in Las Vegas. The KBL teams are each permitted to sign two foreign players.

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