Why couldn’t the Hanwha Eagles be more like Pittsburgh?

In early May, after the Hanwha Eagles had lost six straight games and slipped to the bottom of the standings, Carlos Subero spoke of “hope” to a gathering of reporters. “I haven’t given up on the process of sweating and planting seeds,” he said, “I don’t know when the fruit will come, but I will continue to be faithful to the process,” according to various reports.

He cited the Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball as an example. After finishing at the bottom of the National League Central for three straight years starting in 2019, the Pirates are in first place in the division this season (as of 24 May) with a 25-22 record and a .532 winning percentage. “Pittsburgh was an underdog that lost more than 100 games for the last two years in a row, but they’re making waves this season as a result of sticking to the process,” Subero said, expressing his belief that Hanwha can be like Pittsburgh.

However, Subero did not see Hanwha becoming like Pittsburgh and stepped down. On the night of 11 May, Hanwha fired Subero and appointed Choi Won-ho, head coach of the Futures (second team), as the new manager. Subero’s tenure with Hanwha ended after just over two years and five months, shorter than expected.

Subero’s dismissal effectively marks the end of Hanwha’s “Korean rebuilding experiment”. Hanwha began its major league-style rebuilding experiment in the second half of the 2020 season, when it slumped to the bottom of the standings, as a declaration that it was going to get serious about the “rebuild” that had been used as an excuse for the underperforming team. The older veterans were cut from the team. Instead, the roster was built around young players in their early to mid-20s. Ahead of the 2021 season, the club appointed a foreign head coach for the first time in its history and filled key positions on the first-team coaching staff with foreigners.

At the start of Subero’s tenure, Hanwha preached “freedom to fail” and challenged the young players to take risks. He experimented with unconventional defence shifts (adjusting defensive positions based on a batter’s batting tendencies) and guaranteed 100 at-bats to rookies. He showed his commitment to the process, not the immediate results. Although the team finished in last place for the second year in a row, there was an outpouring of praise from both inside and outside the club for seeing hope. The media was also positive. If the development of the young players continued to go smoothly, the future looked bright.토토사이트

Third from bottom, determined to break up

But the cheers for last place were short-lived. Public opinion, which had been favourable during Subero’s first year in office, began to turn increasingly critical last year. Contrary to expectations of a rebound after two consecutive years at the bottom, Hanwha’s performance plummeted deeper.

The team finished the season with a worse record (46 wins, 0.324 win percentage) than in 2021 (49 wins, 0.371 win percentage). The much-anticipated ‘Subero Kids’ – Noh Si-hwan, Kang Jae-min and Kim Min-woo – seemed to have stalled. The defence shift, a hit product of the Subero system, was also ‘weak’ in its first year. In addition, the mound collapsed one after another as foreign pitchers, who make up half of the team, suffered from string injuries.

In the second half of the year, the baseball world started to talk about replacing Hanwha. Specific names were thrown around. He was reappointed, but only for a short time. The team’s early season struggles led to the decision to part ways with Subero.

“In the KBO, there’s only so much patience a team can have for being at the bottom of the standings for less than two years. At best, it’s about a year.” The KBO is a system where five out of 10 teams advance to autumn baseball. A fifth-place finish is enough to save face. Teams can fluctuate wildly. After falling to ninth place in 2020, the SSG Landers (then SK) jumped to sixth place the following year before winning the title in 2022. NC Dinos, the last-place team in 2018, also finished fifth in 2019 before winning their first overall title in 2020.

In this environment, few parent organisations would put up with three consecutive last-place finishes and all the insults that come with it. Right now, the fans have had enough. Subero’s three-year contract did not give him the freedom to fail for all three years. Especially in the run-up to this season, when the club had invested 12 billion won in free agents and other external signings, the expectations for results were higher than ever, regardless of the objective assessment of the outside world. While there has been a recent upsurge in public opinion against Subero’s dismissal, last year and the beginning of this year were dominated by criticism of the coach.

Rebuilding Hanwha vs retooling Lotte

“Unlike in Major League Baseball, it’s not possible to rebuild a team in Korea by ‘tanking’ (a strategy that involves bringing in good rookies the following year while not doing your best in the season),” the A’s official pointed out. In American baseball, players are systematically developed through up to seven levels, from Rookie League to Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A.

Korea’s farm system, on the other hand, has only one league, the Futures League, where all kinds of players, from 19-year-old rookies to 30-year-old veterans, play. There are clear limitations to developing players in the same way as in the United States. A scout from a local club said, “Lee Jung-hoo, Kang Baek-ho, and other top players are not technically second-team players. They are players who adapted to the first team immediately after graduating from high school and achieved success. How many of the stars of each club can really be said to have been developed in the second team?” he asked.

The supply of players is also limited. In the major leagues, whenever a roster spot becomes available, replacements can be acquired through trades, free agency, the Rule 5 draft (for players not on the 40-man roster), the international player market, and waiver claims (which allows teams to negotiate with players placed on waivers).

In Korea, on the other hand, you can’t make creative trades like swapping a starter for a prospect, and you have to pay a compensatory player to acquire a free agent. The Korean version of the Rule 5 draft, called the “Future FA,” was never properly implemented and is now history. At best, you’ll get a player you’ve fed experience points to, who then goes off to the military or an unexpected gong.

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