The Lions, the four-time reigning Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) champs, announced Sunday that they’ve re-signed second baseman Yamaico Navarro for US$850,000. In his first year as the Lions’ leadoff man, Navarro batted .308 with 31 home runs, 98 RBIs and 25 steals. He was also voted the MVP of the championship Korean Series, after belting four home runs and driving in 10 runs to help the Lions beat the Nexen Heroes in six games.
On Tuesday, however, Enrique Rojas of ESPNdeportes.com reported, citing a source connected to Navarro, that the Dominican infielder agreed to a $950,000 deal with up to $400,000 in performance-based incentives.
Reached by phone, two Samsung officials claimed that their announced figure of $850,000 is the correct one, and that they have no way of knowing how the ESPNdeportes.com came up with its numbers.
They also said the team and the player agreed not to disclose exactly how much Navarro can make in incentives because the figure will depend on Navarro’s statistics at the end of the 2015 season.
Other clubs in the KBO have allegedly underreported salary figures for their foreign players this offseason, even though the KBO abolished its decade-long, $300,000 salary cap in January this year to prevent clubs from doing so.
An official at the KBO said the league office had no means to confirm whether or not teams were paying foreign players under the table, and that it can only review the official contracts that clubs submit to the KBO.
Before the league removed the cap, the KBO clubs increasingly faced charges that they hadn’t been honoring the cap and that they had been paying their imports more cash under the table.
The KBO first opened its doors to foreign players in 1998, with their initial salary ceiling set at $120,000. The figure was raised to $200,000 in 1999 and then to $300,000 in 2004.
Some club officials have admitted not adhering to the cap was “the worst kept secret” in the KBO. Also, while foreign players may only be signed to one-year deals, teams have been allegedly inking them to multiyear contracts, only announcing after the end of each season that they have renewed their foreign stars for another year.
Previously, the KBO officials had said the cap was put in place to maintain competitive balance and prevent wealthier clubs from signing expensive stars, and also to avoid excessive salary inflation.
In recent seasons, more and more players with U.S. major league experiences have joined the KBO. In some cases, foreign newspapers or beat writers of the players’ former major or minor league teams disclosed the new signees’ salary figures that easily exceeded the $300,000 cap in the KBO.
In December 2012, a month before the cap was abolished, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO signed left-hander Dana Eveland for $675,000, with another $225,000 available through performance-based incentives. Only days earlier, the Eagles had said they’d signed Eveland at $300,000. The Eagles denied the newspaper report.
Also before the cap was removed, the Doosan Bears announced the signing of the former big league slugger Jorge Cantu to a $300,000 deal. Cantu later retweeted an earlier message by a Mexican journalist who claimed that Cantu had signed for $600,000 with the Bears and that the player could make up to $1 million with performance-based incentives.