Lee hopes $4M deal will spring him into big league

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Lee hopes $4M deal will spring him into big league

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Former Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks player Lee Dae-ho signed a one-year contract worth $4 million with the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, but he has a long way to go to prove that he belongs in the Major League.

Lee, 34, will start off as a minor leaguer and will have to prove his ability to play in the Big League. The $4 million contract, including incentives, is only guaranteed if Lee qualifies for the Mariners Major League season roster during spring training, according to the Mariners official website. In other words, Lee can be a true major leaguer only if he survives the camp.

Lee’s contract with the Mariners was much anticipated as his destination in the near future was ambiguous until Wednesday.

However, his Minor League contract is an unexpected outcome, considering his performance in the Japanese League during the last four years. Lee’s performance was especially brilliant with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in the Nippon Professional Baseball for the past two years. He led SoftBank into two consecutive championships. Recording 31 home-runs, a 0.282 batting average (BA), 98 runs-batted-in (RBI) and 68 points, Lee won the MVP of the Japanese League last year - the first time a Korean player claimed the title in Japanese league history.

The Japanese league, however, was a pathway to the Major League for Lee. “My dream is to become a major leaguer,” said Lee upon his return from Japan after last season. “I would like to play in the Big League before it is too late.”

For the Mariners, signing Lee gives them a little more room to breathe in their search for a right-handed first baseman that can platoon with Adam Lind. Lind, who was traded from Milwaukee Brewers last month, is a first baseman who bats left-handed. Lind holds a MLB career record of 166 homers, 0.305 BA and 606 RBI.

“Dae-ho gives us another potential right-handed power bat in the first-base competition,” said the Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto. “He has performed at a very high level of production in both Korea and Japan, and we are excited to see how that translates to our team.”

If Lee makes it into the big league roster, he has a chance to see some playing time on the batter’s box as Lind has a soft spot against left-hand pitchers. Lind never hit a home-run last season against left-handed pitchers and his batting average remained at only 0.221. There are several left-handed starting pitchers in the AL West division where the Mariners compete, including Dallas Keuchel for the Houston Astros and Cole Hamels for the Texas Rangers.

“I am very pleased to be given an opportunity to challenge the Major League,” said Lee after finalizing his contract through his agent. “I will play my best game during the spring camp to secure my position in the roster. I am confident that I have what it takes to play in the league. I will perform at my peak level and prove my value to the team.”

Although Lee finally has the MLB contract he wanted for so long, his journey will be a bumpy ride from the get-go as he is expected to face fierce competition in the upcoming Mariners spring camp.

By CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]

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