M’s Add Big Bat From Overseas

Today we were scheduled to preview the 2016 Tacoma Rainiers outfielders, but that post has been pushed back to Friday. We have some interesting news at a different position, instead.

The Mariners announced the signing of Korean first baseman/designated hitter Dae-ho Lee to a minor league contract, with an invitation to major league spring training.

Lee hits bombs.

A 33-year-old right-handed batter, Lee spent the first 11 years of his professional career playing in the Korean league (the KBO). Looking for a bigger challenge, he ventured to the Japanese major leagues in 2012, and has spent four seasons as one of the top home run hitters in Japan.

He hit 24 home runs his first year in Japan, 2012 – here are all of them.

In 2015, Lee batted .282 with 31 home runs and 98 RBI for Softbank. His OBP was a robust .368 and he slugged .524. Also, he doesn’t strike out much for a slugger: 109 strikeouts in 510 at-bats last year, which was a career-high strikeout total for him (first time he cleared 100).

Lee will compete with Jesus Montero, Stefen Romero and Gaby Sanchez to be the right-hand side of the Mariners first base platoon. Since it’s a minor league deal, the Mariners can take a look at Lee in Tacoma for an extended stretch. Regardless, this deal really ratchets up the pressure on Montero, who is out of minor league options.

Reports from Asia indicate that Lee turned down a lot of money from teams in Japan in order to take a stab at playing in the majors.

Lee has an impressive list of accomplishments – here are just a few:

  • Originally signed out of high school as a pitcher, but an arm injury moved him to the first base.
  • He won the Triple Crown in the KBO in 2006, when he hit .336-26-88.
  • Won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics; hit three home runs for South Korea during the tournament.
  • In 2010 he homered in nine consecutive games, a professional baseball record (the US record is eight; Ken Griffey Jr. has a share of it).
  • He won another Korean Triple Crown in 2010, repeated as batting champ in 2011, and then decided to go to Japan for a bigger challenge.
  • His first year in Japan, he won the Home Run Derby by beating former Rainiers outfielder Wladimir Balentien.
  • Named the Japan Series MVP after leading Softbank to the championship in 2015. Was the first Korean-born player to win that award.

It’s an interesting signing for Seattle. Maybe Lee’s hitting skills will translate to the American League and he’ll become a major league threat. If not, he should at least be a highly entertaining slugger for us in Tacoma.

The Mariners also officially announced the signing of veteran Triple-A catcher Steve Lerud. We’ll get his locker ready.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton has more on today’s signings.
  • Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims is recovering from successful prostate cancer surgery. Get well soon, Dave!
  • Ryan Divish caught up with Kyle Seager and others at FanFest.
  • If you want to do some stats, Dae-ho Lee got the Fangraphs treatment.
  • Ex-Rainiers and Mariners great Raul Ibanez has joined the Dodgers front office.
  • A scout who has been with the Mariners for a decade and a half was voted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Outfielder Carlos Quentin, who announced his retirement in the Cheney Stadium clubhouse last summer, has apparently had second thoughts. He signed a minor league deal with the Twins.
  • In the PCL, Las Vegas announced that Wally Backman is returning as manager. This is good news – the league is more fun when Wally is in it.

Check back on Friday for our 2016 Tacoma Rainiers outfield preview. You can blame Dae-ho Lee for the two-day delay.

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