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Will Ji-Man Choi need to return to South Korea for military service?

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Laying out the options for the Korean slugger.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Texas Rangers Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Hello! As this is my first article at DRaysBay, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Homin, and I am a Korean who has been rooting for the Rays for a long time.

Korea may not be a very familiar country to Americans, but Korea has a strong relationship with MLB as it is one of the few countries that enjoys baseball a lot.

As I make my debut with DRaysBay, I would like to talk about the relationship between Korea and the Rays. Specifically, many Rays fans wanted to know about Ji-Man Choi’s military service. I’m not his agent or a lawyer, but I think I can give you some basic information.

Because of the confrontation with North Korea, South Korean men are required to spend 18 months in the military, and do nothing else during that period. Choi is no exception, he will need to serve at some point in time.

So with regard to the military, Choi has several options, which I discuss with some thoughts as to his best course of action:

1. Going to the army right away

Choi could leave baseball and fulfill his military obligations immediately. That, however, would certainly put his baseball career at risk. He is now in his prime and needs to be firmly established as a major leaguer. Going to the military would put his career in great jeopardy.

2. Postpone joining until age-37

The current law allows overseas residents to postpone their military service until the age of 37. He can play in America until he is 37, and he can return home to Korea, but he cannot work in Korea until he fulfills his military service.

3. Become exempt by winning an international competition

Any special accomplishment at an international competition will allow a Korean to be exempted from military duty. This has been the case for other Korean major leaguers such as Hyun-jin Ryu (LAD), Shin-soo Choo (TEX) and Jung-ho Kang (PIT).

Interestingly, the Rays allowed Choi to participate in the Asian Games in 2018 to try to accomplish this honor, even though it was during the season; however, he was left out of the Asian Games roster due to strong competition from Byung-ho Park (former MIN) and others. It won’t be easy in the future to accomplish a similar feat.

4. Receive a medical waiver due to previous health concerns

It’s very strange to say Major Leaguers cannot join the army due to health problems, but the law does allow for such a case. Hak-ju Lee, a former Rays prospect who was seriously injured in a collision at second base, was exempted this way.

Choi is known to have been seriously injured, as that was the reason he transitioned from catcher to first base. If so, he may have already been exempted from the injury, or may seek to gain such an exemption soon.

5. Become a U.S. citizen

Yes, if he becomes an American, he will be free from military obligations in Korea. There is a case in which Cha-seung Baek (SEA), formerly of the Mariners, became a U.S. citizen and was freed from the service requirement.

I don’t know what option he will take, but should he not be eligible for the medical waiver, I think he will find a way to play until age-37, as I don’t think there’s any need to go into the army right away.

We don’t know the future, but the Rays will have a chance to utilize Choi’s talents to their full extent.