Stobriggs Spectacular finish ‘Hanwha, the last man standing’

It’s looking more and more likely that Ryu Hyun-jin, 37, will return to the Hanwha Eagles. After all, Hanwha is the last man standing in the 2023-2024 offseason.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of the Stoble League. The early days were clearly for the Lotte Giants. Their previous manager stepped down due to health issues, and there was a lot of talk about hiring a new manager, Kim Tae-hyung, who was a night owl. In the end, Lotte hired Kim Tae-hyung in a big move that the fans supported.

Lotte retained free agent Jeon Jun-woo and added Kim Min-sung via sign-and-trade, but it feels a bit underwhelming to call Lotte the Stobrig winner. Hanwha’s next move was too bold. Hanwha first locked up free agent Ahn Chi-hong for 4.2 billion won ($7.2 million), then added Kim Kang-min in the second round of the draft to bolster the outfield. In the free agent market, they made a surprise acquisition of Lee Jae-won.

In December and January, the entire storied league was lacking something big, and KT Wiz filled the void by signing Ko Young-pyo to a massive 10.7 billion won non-free agent contract. Add to that the KIA Tigers’ firing of former manager Kim Jong-guk at the end of spring training, and the team’s hiring of Lee Bum-ho shortly after the Lunar New Year holidays, and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of interest.

I thought Kia would be the final act of the Stobrigg, but no, Hanwha was the final act. Free agent Ryu Hyun-jin. Ryu Hyun-jin, who had a strong desire to stay in the major leagues, was close to returning to Hanwha after 12 years. After weighing his options in the Major League Baseball free agent market, he decided to return to Hanwha.

Hanwha is expected to bolster Ryu’s ego with the biggest contract ever, surpassing Kim Kwang-hyun’s (SSG Landers) four-year, 15.1 billion won non-free agent contract and Yang Yang-ji’s (Doosan Bears) 4+2-year, 15.2 billion won free agent contract. 17-18 billion won is likely.

In the end, the final winner of the Stovrig is Hanwha. They have young guns like Moon Dong-joo, Kim Seo-hyun, and Hwang Jun-seo who can develop further, and veterans in Chae Eun-sung and Lee Tae-yang, who signed a year earlier, plus Ahn Chi-hong, Kim Kang-min, and Lee Jae-won. Ryu Hyun-jin is the centerpiece. In Choi Won-ho’s second year, the team has the right ingredients to compete.

Hanwha is a legitimate top-five contender this year. If they don’t make it to fall ball with this roster, they’re a failure. The Ryu Hyun-jin return issue has made the Stovrig hot down the stretch, and in many ways, they’re the team to watch. Beyond fall baseball for the first time in six years after 2018, they have a golden opportunity to end the franchise’s dark era. Hanwha is one year away from opening its new stadium in 2025 and is on the verge of ushering in a new era.


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