By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- Major League Baseball (MLB) has informed its South Korean counterpart it has fined the Baltimore Orioles for breaching protocols in signing a Korean pitcher, officials here said Thursday.
According to the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), MLB imposed an unspecified amount of fine on the Orioles, after the club signed 17-year-old pitcher Kim Seong-min last month.
The KBO, which runs the top baseball league here, had complained to MLB that the Orioles failed to follow proper steps in acquiring the left-hander out of a high school in Daegu, a city some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
Under a player contract agreement between the two leagues, an MLB team interested in a South Korean amateur or professional player must conduct a "status check" with the KBO on the player's availability. According to the KBO, the Orioles didn't inquire about Kim's status. Officials here have said that although the step is "a mere formality," rules should still be respected.
The Orioles last week apologized for their "unintentional breach of protocol."
According to KBO officials, MLB said the contract, reportedly worth US$550,000, will not be approved for the next 30 days as part of its sanctions on the Orioles. Kim will have to leave the team for the duration and train on his own.
"The contract between Kim and Baltimore is still valid," one official said. "But after receiving our complaint, MLB has decided not to approve it for 30 days in what we feel is a symbolic gesture. And fining the team is also a significant step."
In 2008, MLB took a similar measure with Los Angeles Angels' contract with a South Korean right-hander Jang Pil-joon, after the club failed to tender a status check. The Angels' contract was held up for a month and they were kept from applying for a status check or contacting Jang for the duration. But with no other team pursuing the pitcher, the Angels ended up acquiring Jang.
MLB teams must receive KBO approval to sign Korean professionals, but not amateurs. Now the KBO, which has long cried foul over an "exodus of talent" to North America, wants to tweak the player contract agreement and ban MLB teams from signing amateurs here altogether.
Jeong Geum-jo, KBO's head of baseball operations, said MLB has taken "positive" steps but they may not be enough.
"As far as we're concerned, this doesn't solve the fundamental problems (of losing young talent)," Jeong said. "We will have more discussions with scouts on revising the player agreement and let MLB know where we stand on this."
Earlier, the Korea Baseball Association (KBA), the local governing body of the sport, banned Orioles scouts from attending KBA-sanctioned games, including major national high school and college tournaments. The association also suspended Kim from playing and coaching in Korea indefinitely for violating a local rule preventing underclassmen from contacting a pro club.
The school year in South Korea begins in March and Kim was set to enter his senior year next month.
Players outside the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico can join major league teams as international free agents after they turn 16.
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