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Korean baseball team signs All-Star Na Sung-bum in record-tying deal

By Yoo Jee-ho, Yonhap News Agency
Korean baseball team signs All-Star Na Sung-bum in record-tying deal
NC Dinos outfielder Na Sung-bum hits a two run homer against the Hanwha Eagles during the Korea Baseball Organization league regular season game in Changwon, South Korea, on August 26, 2020. Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

Dec. 23 (UPI) -- The Kia Tigers signed All-Star outfielder Na Sung-bum to a record-tying free agent contract Thursday, making a huge splash in a bid to return to South Korean baseball relevance.

The Tigers said Na, 32, agreed to a six-year contract worth up to 15 billion won ($12.6 million). Na will make 6 billion won in total salary, with a signing bonus of the same amount, and can make up to 3 billion won more in incentives.

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The deal is tied for the most lucrative free agent contract in Korea Baseball Organization history, matching the four-year, 15 billion deal that infielder Lee Dae-ho signed with the Lotte Giants in 2017 in a return from Major League Baseball.

Na, a converted pitcher, spent his first nine years in the Korea Baseball Organization with the NC Dinos, the club that drafted him out of Yonsei University in 2011.

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The slugger quickly established himself as a star for the expansion franchise, hitting 30 home runs and knocking in 101 runs in just his second season in 2014.

He duplicated similar power production this year at age 32, with 33 home runs and 101 RBIs. More importantly, he played all 144 games and handled full-time outfield duties, two years after suffering a devastating knee injury that cost him more than 100 games.

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For his career, Na has batted .312, with 211 home runs and 830 RBIs. He has consistently ranked among the league leaders in major hitting categories. In 2021, Na was second in home runs, fourth in RBIs and fifth in runs scored.

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Since Na's rookie year in 2013, no KBO player has had more RBIs and only two players have launched more home runs than Na.

Na also sought an opportunity in MLB last offseason, but didn't get a deal done during the posting process. If he wanted to pursue a big league deal again this year, Na would have had to be posted, as he was only eligible for free agency in the KBO and not overseas.

Instead, he chose to sign a long-term deal with the Tigers that likely ensures he will finish off his career in South Korea.

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The Tigers' general manager, Jang Jung-suk, said the club and the player first exchanged numbers of terms and monetary figures of the deal Dec. 7.

"With the amount of guaranteed money and the length of the deal, we didn't have to change anything from the initial offer," Jang said. "I was insistent from the beginning that Na Sung-bum was a player we absolutely needed on this team.

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"The process was quite easy, because our ownership made a quick financial decision."Na's contract is the ninth free agent deal valued at over 10 billion won in league history, and four of them have come this month.

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