Professional rewards outweigh risksNo beating around the bush. No smoke screens. It was a straight-up question to Ahn Byeong-hwan, scout supervisor for the Los Angeles Dodgers: “Any chance of landing a deal with Lee Seung-yeob?” His answers were shorter than a circus midget.
“Now is not the time,” was his first response. “I really can’t say anything,” he said next, dodging my grilling. His final words were, “Just wait a little bit.” Not that I expected to hear anything different.
At 27, Lee is in his prime. That means he has to take full advantage of the situation and set himself up money-wise. Officially, Samsung cannot talk to him until the end of this month. Unofficially, they have already asked Lee to stay if he gets an offer less than $2 million per year.
Samsung has repeatedly made it clear that if he sticks with them they will make him the richest man in Korean sports history. The four-year package is rumored to be in the neighborhood of 1 billion won ($840,000) a year, with a signing bonus of another billion-won or so.
So far, the Seattle Mariners and the L.A. Dodgers have shown some interest in Lee, but far below his expectations, and those of Koreans as a whole. Lee must wait for a final offer; both teams want to see Lee perform in the minors before bumping him up to the big show. In the Dodgers’ case, they seem to think of Lee more in terms of a backup role even if he climbs his way up to the majors.
What’s out on the table right now is about $1 million for three years, give or take a little while he is in the minors. So the money is not really there, and play time in the majors is not even guaranteed.
With nothing left to prove in Korea, Lee has three choices: He can opt to stay, raking in all the glory that befits his status here. Or, he can take a gamble and go to the major league team that offers the best contract, however low in pay it may be. The third option, which he said has a 50-50 chance, would be to go to Japan for a little while, prove himself there and then head over to the major leagues on better terms.
About 80 years stand between major league baseball and Korean baseball. Between the majors and Japan, the divide is about 50 years. Where does Korean baseball stand in terms of quality -- triple A, double A or single A? Where does Japanese baseball stand?
Hideki Matsui was shunned for the Rookie of the Year Award under the notion that a player with his experience is no rookie. Does that mean Japanese baseball is now on par with major league baseball?
Lee carries the official stamp of being this country’s best slugger, and that is a heavy burden. But I believe he should take the gamble and play in the majors even if it means grinding it out through the farm system.
With no Korean player ever having succeeded in the majors after playing in the domestic leagues, he is taking a risk. If public opinion and pressure makes a move to the majors too much for him to deal with, he should go to Japan. A failure there could be an even greater disaster in terms of national pride but I believe he would do just fine. Korean baseball is on the farm level but Lee has talent and he should try to work his way to the major leagues instead of wondering later what might have been. He might just wind up being a first who succeeds.
by Brian Lee