Lee should get out while he still canNew numbers came in over the weekend concerning Lee Seung-yeob’s bid to play in the major leagues.
The L.A. Dodgers made their final bid -- $3 million for two years with guaranteed major-league playing time. But on Sunday Lee officially rejected the offer through his agent.
With Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines putting together a two-year contract worth about 6.6 billion won ($5.57 million), Samsung’s ballpark figures just took on new meaning. Lotte is also giving Lee the chance to jump to the majors after his second year if he wants to. Take taxes and agent fees into account, and he will take home 4.6 billion won. Well aware that Samsung cannot make any official bid till the end of this month, Lotte is trying to seal a deal before their competitor has a chance to present a figure.
Samsung, which through its four-year offer made clear that it was ready to make Lee the richest person in Korean sports history, has changed its stance to a three-year or possibly even a two-year deal. A signing bonus in the 2.5-billion-won range, plus annual salary, should bring the package to 7 billion won.
Lee’s safest course, money-wise, is to stay in Korea and enjoy his title as “the people’s batter.” For his fans, that would mean a couple more years of Lee-inspired entertainment. Guaranteed. But it would surely spell the death of Lee’s dream to play in the majors.
In an online poll conducted by a sports tabloid over the weekend, 77 percent of the 5,269 people who took part in the survey either wanted Lee to jump to the major leagues or remain here; only 23 percent said Lee should go to Japan.
Time and again, Lee has said that he will get to the majors at any cost. But if he opts to play in Japan, can anyone really point a finger and say he did it for the money? I think not. So far only one Korean player has become a star in Japan -- Seon Dong-yeol, who became the Junichi Dragons’ closer in 1996, retiring in 1999 with 95 saves in his last three years with the Dragons. But even Seon ― the best pitcher of his time, if not ever, in Korea ― had a bumpy first year. Chung Min-tae, Chung Min-cheol and Cho Sung-min, who played for Japan’s Yomiuri Giants, are back home seeing success they never found in Japan.
Koo Dae-sung, who pitches for the Orix Blue Waves, is doing all right, but he is nowhere near the level he was performing at here. Lee Jong-beom, who goes by the nickname “baseball genius,” truly flopped on his road trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. He, too, is back home in old form. Aside from Seon, Korean players have not fared well in Japan.
So the odds are not in Lee’s favor in Japan, though I think he would do better than his predecessors, a bit in the line of Tyron Woods, the American who hit 40 homers this season for the Yokohama Bay Stars. Woods, who held a .297 batting average in his five years in Korea, had a .257 batting average with 25 home runs and 82 runs batted in in 2002, his last season on the peninsula.
If Lee stays in Korea, he will not have much of a chance two years from now to revive the major leagues’ interest, which was not all that hot for the 27-year-old player at his peak. Going to Japan is not a direct trip but it is a stepping stone to the big show. Sure, there is a lot to lose, but no one could blame Lee for taking a chance.
by Brian Lee