S. Korean free agent Lee Dae-ho agrees to deal with Seattle Mariners: report
SEOUL, Feb. 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korean free agent slugger Lee Dae-ho has agreed to a deal with the Seattle Mariners, a local report claimed on Wednesday.
Lee's South Korean agency, Montis Sports Management Group, wasn't immediately able to confirm the report by major league television analyst Min Hoon-ki. Citing a source privy to Lee's contract talks, Min wrote in his column on the portal site Daum that the Lee had agreed to a one-year contract worth up to US$4 million with incentives. Min added Lee will undergo his physical on Thursday and will return to South Korea the following day.
Lee is represented by MVP Sports Group in the United States.
He had been training in Arizona with his former Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club, Lotte Giants, since Jan. 4.
Lee had initially planned to come back home last Friday, but pushed back the trip to continue his contract talks with unidentified big league clubs.
If Lee's deal is confirmed, the 33-year-old will be the fourth South Korean to sign with a major league club this offseason, after Park Byung-ho (Minnesota Twins), Kim Hyun-soo (Baltimore Orioles) and Oh Seung-hwan (St. Louis Cardinals). Lee will be in the same American League West division as Texas Rangers' outfielder Choo Shin-soo, his childhood friend in the southern port city of Busan. Both Lee and Choo were high school pitchers.
Lee, first baseman/designated hitter who bats and throws right-handed, is coming off the most productive season of his four-year career in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). He had career-highs of 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in 141 games for the Central League's Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and won the Japan Series MVP as the Hawks knocked out the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in five games for their second straight NPB title.
The former KBO MVP chose not to re-sign with the Hawks so he could pursue his big league dreams. Lee was the only South Korean free agent this offseason to attend the annual MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, in December, and said he met with general managers from four clubs there.
Two other South Korean free agents, outfielder Kim Hyun-soo and relief pitcher Oh Seung-hwan, have signed with the Baltimore Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals, respectively. Lee's camp had expected to land a contract by mid-January.
Position players will report to spring training in about three weeks.
Big league teams might at first have been reluctant to sign a big-bodied designated hitter -- the former high school pitcher had played third base and first base earlier in his career -- who will turn 34 during the season. He's listed at 194 centimeters and 130 kilograms (6-foot-4 and 286 pounds).
Lee has pounded on pitching in the top two Asian leagues for more than a decade. He hit 225 home runs in 1,150 games in the KBO with a .309 career average from 2001 to 2011, and added 98 home runs in 570 games across four seasons in Japan.
Earlier this offseason, the Mariners, with new general manager Jerry Dipoto wheeling and dealing, traded away two first base options, Logan Morrison and Mark Trumbo, and then acquired first baseman Adam Lind from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Lind, who bats and throws left-handed, has been in the majors for 10 seasons, the first nine of which were spent with the Toronto Blue Jays. He hit 20 home runs with 87 RBIs and a .277/.360/.460 line in 149 games last year, his fifth-career 20-homer season.
The Mariners finished fourth in the AL West last season at 76-86, while scoring 656 runs to rank 13th among 15 AL clubs. They had the AL's third-worst batting average with .249 but did hit 198 home runs to rank fifth in the league, despite playing their home games at a pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.