The biggest shocker of the winter stovepipe ahead of the 2020 season was Ahn Chi-hong’s move to the Lotte Giants. Ahn Chi-hong, who had led the team to a championship as a rookie and had come to be known as the “Tigers for life,” was now wearing a Lotte uniform. He was sensitive to changes in his surroundings, but due to the passive negotiation of his original team, the KIA Tigers, Ahn eventually chose Busan.굿모닝토토
Despite the abrupt change in circumstances, Ahn won the hearts of Lotte fans with his sincerity during his four years in a Lotte uniform. Even in his free agency season in 2023, he showed leadership and dedication to the team by serving as captain.
In 2023, Ahn played in 121 games, batting .292 with 124 hits, eight home runs, 63 RBIs, a .374 on-base percentage, and a .400 slugging percentage. The free agent market was very interested in Ahn, as he will be 34 years old in 2024 and can still be competitive as an infielder.
After the free agency market opened on Nov. 19, Ahn announced the signing of his free agent contract within two days on Nov. 20. However, the jersey he wore was not Lotte’s, but Hanwha Eagles’. Ahn and Hanwha signed a four-year contract totaling 5.5 billion won, including 4.7 billion won in guarantees and 800 million won in options. After the fourth year, a mutual option for a second year will be triggered, giving both the club and the player a choice. If the contract is extended, it will be worth a total of KRW 1.7 billion, including KRW 1.3 billion guaranteed for two years and KRW 400 million in options.
This is Ahn’s third professional jersey after Hanwha, Kia, and Lotte, and Hanwha moved quickly to recognize his value. Hanwha’s sincerity was enough to sway Ahn, who had made staying with Lotte his top priority.
So why was Lotte so reluctant to pursue him? Ahn wanted to stay with Lotte, where he played for four years. However, the size of Lotte’s offer was too big a difference from Hanwha’s offer, including the length of the contract. The deal was finalized after just two days of negotiations.
A baseball insider said, “Before the free agency period opened, Ahn Chi-hong’s first priority was to stay in Busan. However, when Lotte went ‘all in’ on Jeon Jun-woo, who had competition from other teams, the amount of money available was significantly reduced due to salary cap issues. I’ve heard that the contract lengths were so different that it’s hard to compare the amounts. Looking at the numbers, Ahn’s move to Hanwha makes sense. In fact, Lotte’s willingness to keep him was very weak.”
In the end, Lotte’s loss of internal free agent Ahn Chi-hong signaled the difficulty of signing additional external free agents due to the salary cap. Lotte is expected to look for a solution to the second base void left by Ahn’s departure by considering various options, including internal position changes, free agent compensation, the second round draft, and trades.