One of the teams with mixed forecasts for the season ahead of the 2023 KBO League is the Doosan Bears. Doosan, which fell to 9th place last year and failed to advance to the Korean Series for 8 consecutive years, made a big change in the Stove League.
When coach Kim Tae-hyung, who led the Korean Series for 7 consecutive years, expired, he gave up on renewing the contract and appointed coach Lee Seung-yeop, who had no professional coaching experience. Instead of pushing ahead with the retention contract of insider free agent Park Se-hyeok, who was the main catcher, Yang Eui-ji, the largest FA fish, was recruited for a total of 15.2 billion won over six years. Optimism and prudence are mixed about Doosan, which welcomes the new season after the manager and hostess have changed at once. There are opinions that it will be possible to challenge for the top ranks right away, and that it will not be easy to challenge for the top 5.
For Doosan’s rebound, voices are gaining strength that the role of existing key players is just as important as manager Lee Seung-yeop and Yang Eui-ji. In particular, it is a story that while internal free agent players have left one after another in recent years, the players retained by Doosan through large free agent contracts must perform an activity worthy of their reputation.
One of them is Doosan’s starting third baseman Heo Gyeong-min. Heo Kyung-min, who made his professional debut after being nominated by Doosan in 2009, obtained FA qualification for the first time after the end of the 2020 season and remained with a large contract worth 8.5 billion won for 4+3 years. If the contract is fulfilled by 2027, Heo Kyung-min, born in 1990, will be 37 years old, effectively making a reservation for the ‘Lifetime Doosan Man’.
Heo Kyung-min’s FA contract was too generous to the player, and there was also a view that it was an ‘overpay’. Heo Kyung-min, who was recognized for his solid defense, was selected for the 2019 Premier 12 national team. However, it was true that his batting was somewhat empty, with two batting averages of 3.3 in his professional career.
In particular, the recent trend in baseball is that the third baseman responsible for the hot corner is required to have long hitting power. However, Heo Gyeong-min’s double-digit home run was only one 10 home run in 2018. An analysis was raised that Doosan, which designated Heo Kyung-min as the team’s leader as well as the infielder, had a large contract as an inevitable choice to win the ‘FA market competition’ with other clubs.
In the first season after the FA contract, in 2021, Heo Gyeong-min was sluggish with a batting average of 0.278, 5 homers, 59 RBIs, and an OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) of 0.703. Last year was better than the previous year with a 안전놀이터 batting average of 0.289, 8 homers, 60 RBIs, and an OPS of 0.758, but there were aspects that were difficult to be satisfied with. In the two years since his free agent contract, he has never achieved a .300 batting average or a double-digit home run.
Doosan’s biggest task this season is expected to be the generational change of second baseman and shortstop, that is, Keystone. The reality of Doosan is that there are many infielders, including veterans, midfielders, and prospects, but there is no clear key player across the offense and defense. In the midst of trial and error to settle the keystone, if even Heo Kyung-min, whom he believed to be ‘Sangsoo’, is sluggish, Doosan’s worries will inevitably deepen.
Heo Kyung-min took over as Doosan’s captain this season. Attention is focusing on whether Doosan will succeed in restoring its honor and lay the foundation for restoring the dynasty thanks to Heo Kyung-min’s strong performance in air defense.