Korean first baseman Dae-ho Lee, who has spent the past two seasons playing for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, is weighing offers from three Major League teams, according to a Korean media report from Michael Min (hat tip: Han Lee of Global Sporting Integration, on Twitter). Recently, Jee-ho Yoo of Korea’s Yonhap News Agency wrote that Lee was planning to return home this weekend after training with his former team, the Korea Basbeall Organization’s Lotte Giants, in Arizona. However, Yoo now reports that Lee will postpone his trip to meet with an MLB club. It’s not clear whether the team with which Lee is meeting this weekend is a new entrant into the bidding or if he’s continuing negotiations with a club to which he has already spoken. Notably, Yoo also says that the Hawks would like to re-sign Lee and are slated to begin their own Spring Training next week, perhaps creating an urgency to make a decision.
A right-handed hitter, the 33-year-old Lee is an accomplished player in both NPB and in the KBO. He’s OPSed well over .800 across the past four seasons in Japan, including a very strong .282/.368/.524 batting line with 31 homers and 30 doubles this past season in Japan. A former KBO MVP, Lee has a lifetime batting line of .303/.387/.514 and a career-high 44 home runs, coming back in 2010 (although that was at age 28, and he’s traditionally been more of a 25- to 30-homer bat).
Lee, who is listed at 6’4″ and 286 pounds, is limited to first base and designated hitter from a defensive standpoint, but there are many clubs that could look to add someone of that skill set with his type of upside — especially if the current asking price is one year, as the Japanese report above indicates. The Astros don’t have a definitive answer at first base to begin the season, for instance, and Lee could present competition for Jon Singleton and serve as a stopgap to top prospect A.J. Reed. The Cardinals could consider him a potential platoon partner for Brandon Moss and/or Matt Adams, while the Mariners could look at him in a similar light and hope to pair him with Adam Lind. All of those fits, of course, are speculative.
Back in December, Lee’s reported goals were to sign with a winning club that offered the opportunity for regular playing time. It might be difficult to come by a contending team with a notable hole at first base or DH at this point (although Houston does fit that bill to some extent). Lee met with multiple clubs at last month’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, though little has been reported in terms of the teams to which he has actually spoken. The Pirates were said at one point to have some interest in Lee, though Pittsburgh does have Mike Morse and the since-acquired Jason Rogers as potential in-house options as right-handed-hitting first basemen.