By: Jack Wannan
Dan Straily had a tough choice to make in the offseason. Coming off a record-breaking year with the Lotte Giants in the Korea Baseball Organization, Straily was hoping the season could propel him back into Major League Baseball in North America. However, deadlines didn’t align. Saying yes to the idea of returning to the MLB meant that he would have to say no to an offer that was already on the table from Korea.
Right after the 2020 KBO season finished, the Giants, a team out of Busan, South Korea, approached Straily with a new contract. This contract forced him to decide quickly if that was what he wanted to do.
Giants wanted a response sooner than later, and the specific deadline that they gave Straily was way before North American teams would start making offseason pickups. This meant that he had to either take what was on the table or go for a gamble. This was troubling to him, and he was open about that.
“It’s a little bit frustrating that they [the Giants] would do that. But again, this is business. This is baseball,” said Straily during free agency on his podcast “The Journeyman.”
In the end, Straily chose to return to South Korea. The Oregon-based 32-year-old was on the fence about the options until an advisor of his put things into perspective.
“You have door A, and you have door B,” he was told. “You know what’s behind door A: it’s this offer from Korea. But if you take door A, you don’t get to know what door B is. Ever.”
The deal that the Giants gave Straily is a lucrative one. After negotiating with what he called “pinch me” levels of money, Straily settled with $1.2 million U.S. dollars along with a signing bonus of $300,000. The increase in pay is significantly higher than his debut season for the club, which saw him earn $800,000 with a signing bonus of $300,000.
Money wasn’t the only thing that got better for Straily this year. After being apart from his wife and children for all of the 2020 season, Straily was able to bring them to Korea this time. While the family won’t be there for most the entire season, they’ll be in the country for a fair amount of the time - long enough that his son has enrolled in school while there.
“Last year it was really the first time that I had ever spent 10 months apart from my wife or my family. That was really hard … [This year] It’s been absolutely awesome to not just spend all the time on my phone trying to see what my family’s up to [back home].”
With only days until the KBO starts their season, Straily is looking forward to the season. The end goal for Straily is to play in the MLB again, although he enjoyed his time in Korea last year and is happy to come back.
He first entered the KBO in 2020 with the goal of “proving himself.” He was coming off a rough 2019 that saw him cut from the Miami Marlins near the end of spring training - a move he didn’t see coming due to his performance. Later in the year, Straily had to deal with a torn meniscus. With that behind him, 2020 was a reset.
“I had the chance to come over here and just prove that I hadn’t lost anything … Prove that to myself first and foremost and [also] prove it to baseball,” he said.
Straily returns to the Giants as one of the best pitchers in the club and the entire league. He finished the 2020 season with the second-best ERA (2.50), third-most wins (15) and most strikeouts (205). Along with the hopes that he can do an even better season himself, he feels the clubhouse is optimistic about what the team can do.
Straily believes that the younger talent on the team continues to improve and could be a factor, along with stand-out veterans like Lee Dae-ho returning to the lineup. He noted that the health of a pitching lineup is crucial for a KBO team, and even arguably more than an MLB lineup.
“In the [United] States it’s like you can afford almost if someone gets hurt or has a little downtick. The other guys are there to pick up the slack. The depth just isn’t the same here, so that really determines a big [amount of] success of the team,” said Straily.
The health of the bullpen from the Giants affected them greatly in 2020. Straily acknowledged this, mentioning the injury of young starter Lee Seung-heon, who left their lineup after his first appearance of the season after taking a line drive to the head. Lee later returned to the squad, fitting in seven appearances from September to October.
Along with the returning names to the starting rotation, former San Francisco Giants pitcher Enderson Franco will make his KBO debut. The 28-year-old had a short five-game run in the MLB in 2019 before becoming a free agent the next year. He took the place of starting pitcher Adrian Sampson, who departed the lineup following the 2020 season.
The comfort that the 2021 KBO season brings to Straily has not changed his end goal. He still looks to return to playing in the MLB someday, and he is hoping to continue to use the KBO as his proving ground for that.
“I said since day one that that was the goal, [but] I didn’t know how long that would take,” said Straily.
With the new season ahead, a big goal that Straily wants is the strikeout record for a season, which is currently held by 80’s Giants pitcher Choi Dong-won.
In the end, there’s a lot to look forward to about “door A.” Returning to the KBO, Straily has the opportunity to put up even better numbers, attract scouts all the while spending time with his family again. While he admits the idea of what could’ve been this year still comes up, he is undeniably happy with how things are.
“I remind myself that I don’t get to reflect on that. There’s no room for those thoughts in my head. Every now and then it creeps in and I just push it back out,” said Straily. “I chose door A, and I’m extremely happy with door A.”