“Lineuiji,” which is a compound word of NCSoft’s online game Lineage and Yang Eui-ji, has finally been realized. The absence of a starting catcher has been troubling the NC Dinos. By signing the best catcher in the league, the team has laid the groundwork to join the ranks of the top teams in the league.
Free agent Yang Eui-ji on Tuesday signed a four-year deal worth 12.5 billion won with the NC Dinos. It is the second highest deal in the league following Lee Dae-ho’s 15 billion won deal with the Lotte Giants. The deal made Yang the highest-paid catcher in the league followed by Kang Min-ho, who signed an 8-billion-won deal with the Samsung Lions.
The Dinos is expecting that Yang would make the team much stronger. Yang drew attention with his precise throwing and long hit as a high school student in Gwangju. He was drafted by the Doosan Bears in the second round in 2006 and won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2010. Winning four Golden Gloves in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018, Yang has become one of the best catchers in the league. He was the starting catcher for the Korean National Baseball Team in 2015, when the team won the WBSC Premier 12 and in 2018, when the team finished first in the 2018 Jakarta Palembang Asian Games.
The NC Dinos, which advanced to the post-season play every year from 2014 to 2017, had the worst season this year, finishing last in the league. Yang’s presence is expected to be a great help to the team, filling the vacuum created by its former catcher Kim Tae-gun, who joined the National Police Agency baseball team to serve his military duty.
“I talked (with Yang Eui-ji) over the phone. He said he would sacrifice for the team,” said NC Dinos Manager Lee Dong-wook. “Having Yang Eui-ji in the squat is a pressure to the opponent. On the other hand, he can give much mental security to our pitchers. I’m looking forward to the synergistic effect he will create in batting, too.”
Yang is expected to play a big role in nurturing young pitchers in the Dinos. Yang is thought to have played a crucial role in nurturing pitcher rookies, such as Ham Deok-ju, Park Chi-gook, and Lee Young-ha of the Doosan Bears. “A good catcher naturally creates good pitchers. I’ll let our pitchers throw according to Yang’s lead,” said Manager Lee. "I’ll make sure other catchers in our team lead the pitchers like Yang when they’re in the squat."
Meanwhile, the Doosan Bears has lost its free agent franchise stars two years in a row. Last year, Min Byung-hun moved to the Lotte Giants and Kim Hyun-soo signed with the LG Twins after returning from Major League. The Bears reportedly offered a four-year deal worth 12 billion won, including an option for another 1 billion won, to Yang. It is 1.5 billion won less than what the Dinos offered to Yang.
The Bears could maintain its performance by nurturing rookies that could replace free agents who left the team. But since catcher is a position that cannot be replaced by a rookie in a short time, the Bears is likely to experience some difficulties. It remains to be seen how much Park Se-hyuk, a back-up catcher of the Bears, would grow as a starting catcher.