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Tensions growing between Ji-man Choi, Pirates

Since being acquired by the Pirates, Choi has had a rough go of things in the ‘Burgh.

American League Wild Card Series: Tampa Bay Rays v. Cleveland Guardians Photo by Joe Sargent/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Even though the 2023 season is still months away, the Pittsburgh Pirates have already drawn the ire of one of their newest players.

According to Jeeho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency, first baseman Ji-man Choi was “deeply hurt” with the team’s decision to submit a medical objection that would keep him off Korea’s roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

The restriction for Choi came after he underwent surgery in his right elbow to remove “loose bodies” that affected his on-field ability last season.

In an interview with Yonhap, Choi expressed his frustration about pulled from the World Baseball Classic, saying things were going well with rehab and that he was ready to play:

“I was healthy enough to take live batting practice recently,” Choi said. “I am extremely disappointed and deeply hurt, because I was building up nicely for the national team training camp in the middle of this month and the first round of the WBC.”

In the same interview, Choi said representing his home country means more than his injury:

“Regardless of sports, I think every athlete dreams of wearing the national team flag on their chest and representing the country.”

While most fans would side with Choi, both sides present valid arguments.

For the Pirates, allowing Choi to play in the World Baseball Classic opens the opportunity for him to possibly re-injure his elbow and miss a good portion of the season. In turn, this would throw a wrench in the team’s first base platoon, something they spent most of the offseason building.

They want Choi to be 110 percent ready come Spring, rather than him risking a setback.

On the other hand, Choi has a reasonable gripe since the medical objection takes the element of choice right out from under him. Playing in the World Baseball Classic is something players dream of but now he has no other option but sit out.

This is the second situation where Choi and the Pirates didn’t see eye-to-eye. The other was the arbitration fiasco.

Choi, who is in his final year under contract, was the only arbitration-eligible player on the roster that the team didn’t reach an agreement with and both opted to go to trial. The Pirates offered him $4.65 million, which is slightly above what he was projected to make in 2023, but Choi asked for $5.4 million.

Keep in mind, Choi made $3.2 million last year with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Both sides present valid arguments, but peace needs to be restored before Spring Training. If Choi is unhappy, he will be a detriment to the locker room and the first base platoon.

A simple solution would be to work out any off-field kinks between Choi and General Manager Ben Cherington. Have both explain their reasons and come to an understanding.

Then again, that’s easier said than done.