The evaluation is over. Now it’s time to wait for the bids. Competitive bidding is a certainty, but can he surpass the contract size of his “idol?” Lee Jung-hoo’s (25) time is starting.
This year’s Major League Baseball free agency market is sure to be filled with stories about Shohei Ohtani. The biggest question is where he’ll go after his MVP-caliber performance with a perfect two-hitter. With a contract expected to be worth $500 million, the hegemony surrounding Ohtani’s destination will dominate this winter.굿모닝토토 주소
Once Max Ohtani’s destination is determined, other players will likely follow suit. In particular, there is a famine of outfielders in free agency this year. The biggest name in the outfield is Cody Bellinger, 28, a former MVP who has bounced back perfectly this year with the Chicago Cubs after a down year with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The next name on the list is South Korea’s Lee Jung-hoo.
Lee was ranked 14th in MLB.com’s free agent rankings on March 31. Only Bellinger (No. 4) and Jorge Soler (No. 11) are ranked ahead of Lee in the outfield. Lourdes Gurriel Jr, who has 24 home runs this year, is ranked below Lee at No. 15.
However, as a pure outfielder, Lee could be ranked right behind Bellinger. Soler is practically a designated hitter. In 134 games this year, he has played only 32 games (31 starts) and 241⅔ innings in the outfield. He started 102 games as a designated hitter. That’s a lot of “part-time” outfield work. His age, 31, born in 1992, is also a reason for his underrated status.
On the other hand, Lee is younger than Soler and can play all outfield positions, including center field. His power is also above average. He has a lot to offer in terms of offensive production. “The 2022 KBO MVP, who had his season cut short by ankle surgery, has a career slash line of .340/.407/.491 in seven seasons in South Korea and is considered an above-average defensive center fielder,” MLB.com explained.
MLB.com also included Lee on its list of nine intriguing free agents on Aug. 8. “It’s not always easy to predict what a star player from the Korean Baseball Organization will look like in the major leagues. However, in Lee’s case, we can expect a relatively smooth transition,” predicting that Lee will have a soft landing in the majors.
“Despite an ankle injury in July that limited him to 86 games, he didn’t look much different from his MVP-winning form in 2022.” “A contact hitter, Lee made his KBO debut at the age of 18, 11 years younger than the league average, fresh out of high school, and posted a career slash line of .340/.407/.491,” he said.
Amidst all this, the bidding is sure to be competitive. The San Francisco Giants are said to be the frontrunners in the race to sign Lee. The Giants have been keeping tabs on Lee, and this year, the team’s top brass traveled to South Korea to see him. General manager Pete Putilla even traveled to Lee’s Kiwoom home farewell game. As the Giants look to bolster their infield this year, Bellinger is their top priority, with Lee as a secondary option.
NBC Sports Bay Area wrote about San Francisco’s offseason plans, “Even with the loss of both Ohtani and Yamamoto, there are still plenty of ways the Giants can improve their roster. Bellinger, who was a target a year ago, is a good fit for San Francisco, which is looking for a center fielder for the second straight year,” and mentioned Lee as the next best option in center field.
The article continued, “This summer, San Francisco officials traveled to South Korea to watch Lee. General manager Pete Putilla traveled back to Korea to watch Lee play his final game for the Kiwoom Heroes. San Francisco spent months conducting a full investigation into Yamamoto and Lee.
“At the plate, Lee is a defensive-minded center fielder who best fits San Francisco’s team philosophy. He’s drawn 49 walks this year while striking out just 23 times. A longtime scout praised Lee’s ability to make contact with the ball, saying, “He has the best hand-eye coordination of any KBO player I’ve ever seen,” and that he has a good eye for the ball.
“A gap-to-gap hitter, Lee hit 23 home runs in 2022, but this year, after suffering an ankle injury, he hit just six home runs in 86 games. But those familiar with his baseball believe there’s more power to come,” adding that he could also showcase long balls.
San Francisco’s interest and evaluation is not shared by other clubs. MLBTR pegged the deal at five years and $50 million, but it could be higher if the bidding process is competitive. New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman recently explained his plans to bolster the outfield, saying, “We need two outfielders,” in a recent owners’ meeting. NJ.com, a local New Jersey outlet, described Lee as a potential outfield addition: “The 25-year-old Lee has earned a reputation as an elite contact hitter during his seven seasons in South Korea. With no clear-cut roster spot other than the ‘Home Run King’ Aaron Judge, the expectation is that Lee will have to be competitive in the American League East, which has entered a ‘no-holds-barred’ system.
Boston-area outlet Mass Live also cited an article from MLBTR, which “listed Jordan Montgomery, right-handed starter Sonny Gray, left-handed outfielder Jung-Soo Lee, and center fielder Ahmed Rosario as potential free agents the Red Sox could sign.
Boston was also the subject of a surprise bid last year. They signed Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida to a massive five-year, $90 million contract. At the time of the signing, the general consensus was that the Red Sox overpaid for a player who had the contact skills but lacked power. But Yoshida broke out this year, hitting .288 with 15 homers, 72 RBIs, and a .783 OPS in 140 games. Worries were put to rest. Yoshida is Lee’s idol, and they even exchanged bats during this year’s World Baseball Classic (WBC).
Citing Yoshida’s example, ‘MLBTR’ wrote, ”One evaluator said Lee is unlikely to stick in center field because of the strain on his bat. ‘Of course, some clubs had similar concerns when Yoshida came over from Nippon Professional Baseball a year ago.’ ‘He has good pure contact skills, but there are concerns that he doesn’t have the power needed to play the corner outfield every day. But Boston had enough faith in Yoshida to guarantee him five years and $90 million, suggesting that teams’ predictions for players coming from other leagues vary. “These contracts are notoriously unpredictable,” he explained. With more competition and more certainty, the size of the contracts could be higher, he said.
The size of the contract is a sign of opportunity, but it’s also a sign that the club can be patient and wait. The same is true for Lee Jung-hoo. When he signed with the San Diego Padres, he received four years, $28 million guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $7 million. He was given opportunities commensurate with his salary, and the team was patient with him, and he developed enough to win the National League Gold Glove for utility in his third season this year.
Lee is no different. Both small-market and big-market teams are expected to be in the running to sign him. If there is a competitive bidding war, a mega-deal that exceeds the size of Yoshida’s contract could be possible. A $100 million “jackpot” would be like rolling out the red carpet. In the meantime, Lee’s posting schedule will begin after the KBO Korean Series is over.