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(2nd LD) Free agent pitcher Chong joins S. Korean team after ending major league talks
SEOUL, Dec. 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korean pitcher Chong Tae-hyon on Tuesday signed with a local club soon after ending his contract talks with a Major League Baseball team in the U.S.

   Chong signed a four-year deal with the Lotte Giants in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) at 500 million won (US$434,000) per season, plus 1 billion won in signing bonus and a club option for 600 million won.

   Just hours earlier Tuesday, Chong said in an e-mail statement that he had decided to end contract talks with the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East Division.

   "I informed Baltimore of my decision this morning," Chong wrote. "I will now seek to join a Korean team."

   After signing with the Giants, based in a southeastern city of Busan, Chong said he wants to help his new club win the league championship in 2012.

   "I had some tough times in the U.S. and Lotte really impressed me with their aggressive pursuit," he said through the team.

   In an earlier e-mail statement, Chong had written that he wasn't swayed by any KBO team to return to South Korea, saying no club made a serious offer after he declared his intention to play in the U.S. early in his free agency.

   "I'd like to thank the club for recognizing my value," Chong added. "I am happy to be playing in Busan, a big baseball town with a passionate fanbase."

   The Giants have been to the KBO playoffs in each of the past four seasons but haven't reached the Korean Series, the championship round, during that streak. Troubled by an inconsistent bullpen, the Giants earlier signed Lee Seung-ho, a free agent left-handed reliever and Chong's former teammate on the SK Wyverns.

   Bae Jae-hoo, Lotte's general manager, said Chong had been on the top of the team's off-season priority list all along to address the bullpen issues. Bae said he'd heard Chong wouldn't agree to a deal with Baltimore unless he was guaranteed a place on the 25-man active major league roster.

   "For someone like Chong, who's not proven on the major league level, it's tough to make the 25-man roster," Bae said. "I felt it'd be difficult for him to sign, and I stayed in touch with him to convince him to join us."

   An 11-year veteran with the Wyverns, Chong declared free agency last month and left for the U.S. on Nov. 18 to seek opportunities in the majors.

   The Orioles reportedly offered the right-hander a two-year contract worth US$3.2 million last month, along with a spot on the 40-man roster, still a generous offer for a career reliever who has never played overseas before.

   Chong would have become the 13th South Korean major leaguer, and the first to make the jump from the KBO to the majors.

   Despite reports that the signing was imminent, Chong returned to South Korea last Wednesday to undergo further medical tests.

   Chong explained in his statement that the talks were slowed because of the U.S. Thanksgiving holidays and issues related to medical tests.

   "I had issues with my liver, but I had no problems with my knees, shoulders or elbows as rumored," the pitcher said. "We had some differences in treatment, but I can't go into further details about the deal."

   Chong said he revealed some earlier details about the team's offer but that only put the Orioles in a tough position.

   "Since the club didn't want me to reveal too much, I will try to honor that," he added.

   While the contract talks were stalled, Dan Duqettee, the Orioles' general manager, last week stated on the team's Web site that Chong was still deciding between playing in the majors or staying put in the KBO. Duquette also kept mum about any problems surrounding medical tests.

   Chong thanked the Orioles' management on Tuesday for taking their time with his medical examinations without altering the terms of the earlier offer, adding, "They treated me with sincerity."

  
Chong Tae-hyon (Yonhap file photo)


Chong said his family also came into play, since they would have to make many sacrifices for him to pitch in the majors.

   The pitcher said it hurts him to end his dream that once seemed quite attainable, and making the final decision was the toughest thing to do.

   "I've been happy just thinking about becoming the first KBO player to go directly to Major League Baseball," Chong said. "Now, I will give everything I have to feel an even bigger sense of accomplishment here."

   A right-hander with a submarine delivery, Chong has been a key part of the Wyverns' KBO championship teams in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

   In 11 KBO seasons, he put a 32-22 win-loss record with 99 saves in 477 games, with an earned run average (ERA) of 1.93 in 569 innings.

   jeeho@yna.co.kr
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