By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Feb. 10 (Yonhap) -- The country's top professional baseball league is pushing to change its player contract agreement with Major League Baseball (MLB) to ensure young prospects aren't constantly poached by foreign clubs, a senior official said Friday.
Jeong Geum-jo, the head of baseball operations in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), said the league in particular is seeking revision to a section covering "status check."
Under the agreement, if a major league club wishes to contact an amateur or a professional player who is currently playing or has played in the country, the club, through the MLB commissioner's office, must first check the player's status and availability with the KBO and must receive approval before engaging the player.
Currently, however, MLB teams don't require KBO's approval to sign amateur players, Jeong said.
"If we tell MLB that a certain professional player is under contract and must not be engaged, MLB teams can't contact him," Jeong said. "But the most we can do with amateurs is to tell MLB that a player is soon eligible for the KBO draft and that we hope MLB teams don't engage him. There's nothing we can do if he is signed anyway, because an amateur is not a KBO player."
Jeong said the KBO wants to prohibit teams from signing student-athletes.
"We're seeking to revise the agreement so that only those who are playing or have played for professional teams can sign with MLB teams," Jeong said. "That way, we can protect amateur players."
The KBO has often talked about the need to change the agreement, in light of amateur players' signings in recent years, but it has not previously discussed how it wanted to revise the pact.
Jeong's comments come a week after the KBO filed a complaint with MLB, accusing the Baltimore Orioles of violating the player contract agreement when they signed 17-year-old pitcher Kim Seong-min. The KBO said the Orioles failed to check first with the KBO for Kim's status.
The step would have been inconsequential, however, since the Orioles didn't need the KBO's green light before acquiring the high school sophomore. The KBO wants MLB to impose some sort of sanctions on the Orioles for not honoring the agreement, but Jeong admitted the status check itself is a "mere formality," saying he is more concerned about changing the pact.
Jeong said the U.S. has seemed reluctant to revise the agreement, citing its pacts with other nations with professional leagues, such as Japan and Taiwan. But he was hopeful that some changes could be made eventually.
"If we keep at it, I think there will be some progress," Jeong said. "At some point, we'd be willing to even travel to the U.S. and brief major league clubs on this issue."
South Korean baseball officials have long complained that MLB clubs signing high school players can make it difficult for them to develop youth baseball programs. Several high school graduates have signed on with major league teams in recent years, such as the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros.
The Kim signing has further sparked debate both in South Korea and the U.S. about players' freedom to choose teams and about what Korean baseball officials claim is an "exodus of talent" to the U.S.
In the aftermath, the Korea Baseball Association (KBA), the governing body of the sport here, suspended Kim indefinitely from playing and coaching here for violating a local rule. Designed to prevent young players from leaving for overseas prematurely, the rule states that underclassmen before the final years of their study, either at high school or university, must not contact local or foreign pro clubs. The KBA has also banned Orioles' scouts from attending KBA-sanctioned games, including national high school and college tournaments.
Jeong said the KBO is concerned about issues beyond the signing itself.
"Kim Seong-min is a student-athlete and we can't really stop him going wherever he wants to go," Jeong said. "It's up to the KBA to discipline him. Our job is to deal with violations of our agreement and telling MLB to impose sanctions, and also with revising the agreement."
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