There is a saying, ‘Don’t buy free agent pitchers. Pitchers, whose arms and shoulders are more demanding than those of batters, are often in their prime before they become free agents. After signing a free agent contract, they often go downhill due to injuries and declining pitches.
Doosan left-hander Jang Won-jun (39), who announced his retirement from active duty on Aug. 28, is a rare pitching free agent success story in KBO history. The rare case of a free agent starter in his late 20s leading a team to back-to-back championships as soon as he arrived will not be seen often in the future.
Jang Won-jun, who joined Lotte in the first round in 2004 after graduating from Busan High School, has been a 10-win pitcher since 2008. He grew from a soft delivery to a mid-to-high 140s fastball, a sharp slider, and good command. He hit free agency in 2014 after six consecutive seasons of double-digit wins with Lotte. His market value skyrocketed as a 29-year-old pitcher with durability and no major injuries.
Despite a four-year, 8.8 billion won offer from his original team, Lotte, Jang went to Seoul. Doosan, which had been slow to sign outside free agents, paid a hefty 4.84 billion won for Jang Won-jun. The move to Doosan for less money than Lotte led to speculation of a six-year contract. The officially announced 8.4 billion won was the highest amount for a pitcher at the time, making it Doosan’s first outside free agent signing other than Hong Seong-heon, who was originally from Doosan.
In his first year as a free agent, Jang proved his worth. In 30 games (169⅔ innings), he went 12-12 with a 4.08 ERA. That year, Doosan finished third in the regular season and started the semi-playoffs, but by the Korean Series, Jang had emerged as a big-game pitcher, going 3-0 with a 2.36 ERA in four games (26⅔ innings). Doosan also won the Korean Series upset, marking the beginning of a dynasty.
In 2016, Jang went 15-6 with a 3.32 ERA in 27 games (168 innings). He finished second in the league in ERA in the ride-to-go season. The team also won the Korean Series, clinching the NC in Game 2. Doosan swept the regular season and Korean Series, and Jang was at the center of it all.
As of the Korean Series, Jang is the only pitcher to win back-to-back titles after signing as a free agent. The only other player to do so is infielder Park Jin-man, who led Hyundai to the 2005 and 2006 championships after joining Samsung.메이저놀이터
Jang Won-jun had an exceptional 2017, going 14-9 with a 3.14 ERA in 29 games (180⅓ innings) to lead Doosan to the Korean Series. While the team ended up as runners-up to KIA, Jang had an impressive pitching matchup with Yang Hyun-jong, who tossed seven scoreless innings of relief in Game 2.
His last peak came in 2017, when he posted double-digit wins for eight consecutive seasons. From 2018, his performance plummeted due to a decline in his pitching, and he signed a regular salary contract every year since 2019, when his four-year free agency contract ended. He received 1 billion won in salary during his four-year free agency period, but his salary continued to drop to 600 million won in 2019, 300 million won in 2020, 80 million won in 2021, and 50 million won in 2022 and 2023.
Despite his lack of contributions in the last six years of his career, the club and fans were on the same page when it came to honoring the “champion cheongbusa” who started the Doosan dynasty. He was on the verge of retirement after last season, but new coach Lee Seung-yup gave him another chance. This year, he burned his last flame with a 3-5 record and a 5.27 ERA in 11 games. He retired with 130 wins, the 11th oldest left-hander in KBO history (37 years, 9 months, 22 days), and the ninth to reach the 2,000-inning plateau.
Jang said in a statement to the Doosan organization, “The choice to leave the Jungden Grounds was never easy. However, I made this decision because I thought it was time to stop playing baseball. I’m grateful to owner Park Jung-won for letting me start my second baseball life as a free agent and giving me more chances when I was struggling with injuries.” “I’m glad that I accomplished the last goals I set for myself. However, I can’t stop thinking about my juniors. There are many talented juniors in our team, so I will support them to train diligently and lead the team to leap forward,” he said in his retirement speech.
“I remember the faces of coach Lee Seung-yup, the coaching staff, and my teammates. It is all thanks to ‘Team Bears’ that I can leave with applause until the end. I will never forget the cheers of the fans, which gave me tremendous strength. I am so grateful to them.”
In 18 seasons, Jang compiled a career record of 446 games (2000 innings), 132 wins, 119 losses, 1 save, 14 holds, a 4.28 ERA, and 1,385 strikeouts. He ranks 10th on the KBO’s all-time wins list, 9th in innings pitched, and 11th in strikeouts.