The result is a pay cut. However, we can also get a glimpse of the club’s efforts to build the player’s pride. This is the story of veteran outfielder Lee Yong-gyu (38, Kiwoom Heroes).
Lee Yong-kyu’s annual salary for the 2023 season is 300 million won, a 25% (100 million won) cut from the previous year. He was the only one among the 51 people who were subject to an annual salary contract within the team, whose annual salary was cut by more than 20%. Thanks to the team’s performance in the Korean Series (KS), outfielder Lee Jung-hoo (750 million won → 1.1 billion won), pitcher An Woo-jin (150 million won → 350 million won), infielder Kim Hye-seong (320 million won → 420 million won) The salaries of most of the key players have risen, but Lee Yong-gyu was an exception.
Lee Yong-gyu was classified as a ‘person subject to a salary cut’ early on. He wasn’t that good in his personal grades. He played in 86 games in the 2022 season, with a batting average of 0.199 (54 hits in 271 at-bats) and 21 RBIs. It was the first time since 2005 when he became a key player in the first team that his batting average stopped at 10%. The OPS combined with the on-base percentage (0.326) and slugging percentage (0.221) was only 0.547. On May 12, due to a microfracture of the scapula, he was excluded from the first team entry and was out of line for over 40 days.
Lee Yong-kyu returned to the first team entry at the end of June, but the feeling of hitting did not rise. It was no different in his postseason (PS). He played a brilliant role (5 games, 0.364 batting average) in the KT Wiz and semi-playoffs (jun PO), but it did not last long. He spent a lot of time on the bench in the playoffs (PO) and Korean Series (KS). As much as that, the discrepancy between his team performance and individual performance was severe.
What caught my attention was the extent of the salary cut. Kiwoom has clear salary increases and cuts based on individual performance. If it does well, it raises it by a large margin, but if it is sluggish, it is a club that cuts it mercilessly. Even Yong-gyu Lee alone, last season, stamped at 400 million won, an increase of 300% (300 million won) compared to the previous year. Both the annual salary increase rate and the amount of the increase were the highest among 49 people who were subject to an annual salary contract at the time. Although the situation has changed 180 degrees in a year, Kiwoom decided to cut the line in a way that builds the player’s pride.
Lee Yong-gyu’s annual salary is the fourth highest among beasts on the team, following Lee Jung-hoo, Lee Ji-young (500 million won), and Kim Hye-seong. Ko Hyeong-wook, general manager of Kiwoom, said in a phone call with this magazine, “Last year, the difference in performance was severe, so I accepted (the club’s proposal for an annual salary).
Lee Yong-gyu is fully trusted by director Hong Won-ki Kiwoom. 스포츠토토 Director Hong said, “The grades weren’t good last year, but (Lee Yong-kyu) played a leadership role in the dugout and clubhouse. He held the center like a veteran, so the team didn’t shake too much and didn’t lose focus. Thank you.” conveyed the message.
Last season, the average age of Kiwoom players was 6.7 years (average 8.2 years), the lowest in the league. Lee Yong-kyu, who debuted in 2004, led the team by guiding young players as the oldest and captain. Coach Hong Won-ki waited for Lee Yong-kyu’s return without replacing the captain when he left due to a shoulder blade injury. Even when he was sluggish, he did not exclude him from the first team entry and gave him the best chance.
Inside and outside the baseball team, it was said that “If the ground leader is Lee Jung-hoo, the locker room leader is Lee Yong-gyu.” As much as that, the influence that was not revealed in his record was considerable. This aspect was also taken into consideration in the salary negotiations. Head coach Ko Hyeong-wook commented, “He showed a bad performance, but he played a good role as captain.”