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Choi Hee-seop Goes to Florida

Posted November. 26, 2003 23:06,   


“Big Choi” Choi Hee-seop (24 years old) will wear the uniform of the Florida Marlins, the World Series champions this year.

Florida announced that they traded first baseman Derrek Lee (28 years old) to the Chicago Cubs on November 26 and will receive Choi Hee-seop and an up-and-coming minor leaguer to be named later.

This deal is seen as a “win-win” trade which is beneficial for both sides. Florida won the World Series with a $54 million payroll this year, but it will cost more than $80 million just to keep the current squad intact next year. Because plenty of their key players are eligible for salary arbitration, Florida’s payroll would skyrocket.

Derrek Lee, with the third highest salary on the team at $4.25 million, also is eligible for salary arbitration and his salary is expected to increase to at least $6 million in order to keep him in Florida. Florida, which maintained a team with cheap and young players, will maintain its budget by acquiring a young and up-and-coming player earning the major league minimum salary of $300,000, effectively “killing two birds with one stone.”

Meanwhile, Chicago was in urgent need of adding more batting power. Chicago’s pitching is at a high level with “a marriage of pairs” Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, but batting has been troubled. In particular, the first baseman position was a weakness. This year, Eric Karros, Choi Hee-seop and Randal Simon played by committee at first base, but next year with Derrek Lee, who hit .271 with 31 home runs and 21 steals and 92 RBIs, playing as the regular first baseman, the power of the lineup will be stronger.

This is a good opportunity for Choi Hee-seop. With the Cubs, Choi failed to become a regular player because of manager Dusty Baker’s preference for veterans. However, in Florida, with Derrek Lee’s departure and backup first baseman Jeff Conine who is 37 years old, Choi may actually have a “bloodless landing” as the first baseman. This will give Choi a better chance of playing more often.

Choi’s agent, Lee Chi-hoon, said on the phone on November 26 that he asked Cubs general manager Jim Hendry starting from late September during three meetings that, “If you use Choi next year like the way you did this year, you had better let Choi go on a new path. The team which guarantees regular action for Choi will be better for him.” He commented this trade was voluntary.

Meanwhile, Choi Hee-seop and Derrek Lee have bizarre connections, drawing the U.S. media’s attraction. Derrek Lee’s father, Leon Lee, Orix Blue Wave batting coach, scouted Choi in person while he was working as a Cubs scout.

Derrek Lee said, “I have heard a lot about Choi from my father. He appraised him as a very outstanding batter. I think this is a good chance for him to play everyday.”

Sang-Soo Kim ssoo@donga.com