“He’ll take it like salt”…what does Samsung want from ‘free agent signing’ Kang Sung-ul?

The Samsung Lions are ready for spring training as they have re-signed free agent infielder Kang Kang-ul.

Samsung announced on Sunday that it has signed free agent infielder Kang Kang-ul to a 1+1 year contract worth up to 300 million won ($250 million salary, $50 million option).

Drafted by the KIA Tigers with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 second round after playing at Sadang Choe, Chungbuk Jungang, Ansan Gonggo, and Wonkwangdae, Kang has played in 829 games in the first team, hitting .268 with 574 hits in 2,041 at-bats, 158 home runs, 275 RBIs, 43 doubles, and a 0.636 OPS.

In 2014 and 2015, he hit .264 with 14 homers, 32 RBIs, four doubles and a 0.621 OPS in 93 games and .205 with 12 homers, 30 RBIs, nine doubles and a 0.508 OPS in 90 games, respectively. The following year, he hit .272 with 81 hits in 298 at-bats over 104 games, with 27 RBIs, 36 runs scored, seven doubles and a .643 OPS.

Kang moved to the team as compensation for free agent Choi Hyung-woo, who was transferred from Samsung to KIA after the 2016 season. At the time, the team explained, “We chose Kang to strengthen the infield, which had many injuries in the 2016 season, and to build a full-fledged competitive system.” It was a decision that took into account the team’s circumstances.

In 2017, Kang hit .303 with 125 hits in 135 games (412 at-bats), 24 RBIs, 58 runs scored, 12 doubles, and a .684 OPS for the first time since his rookie year. After the 2018 season, he enlisted in the Commerce Corps for military affairs and played in the Futures League in 2019, batting .395 with 90 hits in 82 games, 43 RBIs, 41 runs scored, 13 doubles, and a .925 OPS.

Rejoining the team after his discharge from the military, Kang made his first appearance in September 2020, hitting .305 with 32 doubles, one home run, 10 RBI, 13 runs scored, one stolen base, and a .730 OPS in 34 games that year. In 2021 and 2022, he hit .260 with 58 doubles, 27 RBIs, 25 runs, two doubles and a .624 OPS in 124 games and .323 with 73 doubles, one home run, 26 RBIs, 31 runs, four doubles and a .773 OPS in 94 games, respectively.

Strong played at least 90 games every year, but 2023 was a disappointment. He was sidelined for much of the year with nagging injuries. After being expunged on April 13, he suffered a wrist injury that kept him out of the first team for over two weeks.

After returning to the first team in early May, he was dropped to the second team within a month. He returned to the first team in early May, but was dropped to the second team within a month. His final first-team stats were 72 games, 212 hits, 46 runs, .217 batting average, 10 RBI, 30 runs scored, one stolen base, and a .551 OPS.

One of the names that Samsung head coach Park Jin-man frequently mentioned during interviews with reporters throughout the season was Kang Seong-ul, indicating the manager’s interest in the player, whether he was in the first or second team.

Playing a healthy season is the most important thing. As long as he can stay injury-free, the team will be able to utilize him. What exactly does the team want from him?

“With the signing of Kang, who has value as an all-around player in the infield and as a left-handed hitter, the team’s depth has become more solid, and above all, we expect him to serve as a salt to ease the burden on Lee Jae-hyun, who played a lot of games last year,” said Samsung President Lee Jong-yeol.

The first is defense. He can play shortstop, second base, and occasionally third base. In the last three seasons alone, Kang has played the most innings at third base. This is one of his strengths, as he can play any role depending on the team’s situation.

Even if he doesn’t start, he can be used as a pinch-hitter or a defender in the middle of the game. He’s still trusted by his team because he’s a “tried and true” card with years of experience in the first team.

The second reason is the smooth operation of the outfield. As Lee Jong-yeol mentioned, Kang is one of the players who can take some of the pressure off of Lee Jae-hyun, who is entering his third year as a professional.

After playing 75 games in his rookie year, Lee batted .249 with 114 hits in 458 games last year, 12 home runs, 60 RBIs, 61 runs scored, five doubles, and a .708 OPS, while playing 1156⅓ innings, the most of any shortstop in the league. He did his job while battling a dislocated shoulder, but the team had to worry about his health throughout the season.

Samsung doesn’t want to put too much pressure on one player like they did last year. It’s clear that they’re not going to overdo it, as it’s most important to have an injury-free season. If Kang can do his job, the team will have less pressure on him.

The player himself also feels responsible. “I am grateful to the club for giving me the opportunity to continue playing with the Samsung Lions. Now that I’m in my middle years, I’m determined to communicate well with my juniors, do my best in the positions the team wants me to play, and repay the fans for their support.”


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