Lotte Giants’ slugger is a wanted man in Japan

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Lotte Giants’ slugger is a wanted man in Japan


Lotte Giants slugger Lee Dae-ho is wanted by Japanese baseball clubs, Japanese media reported yesterday.

According to Japanese daily Sports Nippon, several teams are considering bringing Lee to Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league next season, but said the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles have been the most aggressive.

The paper added that the Golden Eagles will likely send scouts to Korea early next month to evaluate Lee and negotiate with the Giants in order to sign him when his contract ends and he is listed as a free agent.

Lee, considered the most powerful batter in the KBO, was the regular season MVP last year and led seven categories on offense, including home runs, RBI and batting average. He was also the KBO’s triple-crown winner in 2006 and is currently second in batting average (.357), third in home runs (8), and fourth in RBI (27) this season.

The Japanese newspaper described Lee not only as a powerful hitter, but said that he also plays good defense. The 29-year-old has two Golden Glove awards as a first and third baseman, respectively. The paper praised Lee for playing a pivotal role for the Korean national team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic.

According to Japanese baseball experts, the Golden Eagles want Lee to boost their struggling offense. The Japanese club is currently fourth place among six teams in the Pacific League this season.

The Golden Eagles, lead by manager Senichi Hoshino, who watched Lee hit a home run against his Japanese national team at the Beijing Olympics, have scored a paltry 62 runs in 27 games this season to average 2.3 runs per game, the worst in the entire NPB. The Golden Eagles are also ninth in batting average (.227) and team home runs (13), and managed to go seven consecutive games without scoring more than one run, matching the record set in 1970.

The Japanese club signed former major leaguers such as Akinori Iwamura and Kazuo Matsui to strengthen its offense, but the two haven’t had much of an impact. Meanwhile, Randy Ruiz was sent to the minor leagues for his poor defense at first base.

Lee was linked with Japanese clubs last winter during a salary dispute with the Giants. He later settled with the Busan-based club for 630 million won ($578,500), tying former Samsung Lions player Lee Seung-yeop for the highest salary in KBO history.

Lee has always said he wants to remain with the Giants, but reporters close to the player say he is considering a move to Japan because he needs a challenge.

If Lee ends up playing for the Golden Eagles, he will join his fellow countryman Kim Byung-hyun. The former Arizona Diamondbacks closer signed with the Japanese club this season, but has yet to appear on the mound because of an ankle injury. He is currently training with the organization’s minor league team to recover.

If Lee decides to sign with the Golden Eagles, he will become the sixth Korean batter to move from the KBO to the NPB. Currently, Lee Seung-yeop of the Orix Buffaloes and Kim Tae-kyun of the Chiba Lotte Marines are the only Korean hitters in the NPB.

By Joo Kyung-don []

한글 관련 기사 [일간스포츠]

‘이대호를 잡아라’…첫 러브콜은 라쿠텐

일본의 '이대호(29·롯데) 잡기'가 시작됐다. 첫 러브콜은 라쿠텐이 보냈다.

일본 스포츠닛폰은 17일자 "라쿠텐이 올 시즌 뒤 프리에이전트(FA)로 풀리는 이대호를 눈독 들이고 있다"고 보도했다. 라쿠텐은 이대호의 영입을 목표로 다음달 초 구단 관계자를 한국에 파견할 예정인 것으로 알려졌다.

이 신문은 "이대호를 놓고 일본 팀들이 쟁탈전을 벌일 가능성이 크다. 라쿠텐은 이대호에게 관심 있다는 것을 미리 알리고자 시즌 중 (공개적으로) 움직이고 있다"고 덧붙이기도 했다.

스포츠닛폰이 전한 기사의 근거는 상당히 탄탄하다. 올해부터 호시노 센이치 감독이 지휘봉을 잡은 라쿠텐은 투수력 덕분에 퍼시픽리그 4위를 지키고 있다. 그러나 타선 구축에는 실패, 향후 공격력 강화가 절실하다.

라쿠텐은 올 시즌을 앞두고 이와무라 아키노리·마쓰이 가즈오 등 일본인 메이저리거들을 영입했지만 팀 공격력은 별로 나아지지 않았다. 16일까지 27경기를 치르는 동안 득점은 고작 62점에 그쳤다. 팀 타율(0.227)과 팀 홈런(13개)도 리그 하위권에 머물고 있다.

특히 1루수 후보로 영입한 랜디 루이스는 타격과 수비 모두가 부진해 2군으로 내려갔고, 주포 야마사키 다케시는 43세 나이를 이기지 못하고 있다. 현재로서는 이대호가 가장 매력적인 대안이라는 것이 이 신문의 취재 결과다.

스포츠닛폰은 "2008년 베이징올림픽, 2009년 월드베이스볼클래식(WBC)에서 한국의 주축 타자로 뛰었다. 또 1루수와 3루수 부문 골든글러브를 받을 정도로 수비력도 좋다"고 소개했다.

올해 말 FA가 되는 이대호는 일찌감치 일본 구단들의 스카우트 리스트에 올랐다. 국제대회마다 인상적인 활약을 했던 데다, 지난해 전무후무한 타격 7관왕을 차지하면서 '장외 주가'가 폭등했다.

이대호는 향후 진로에 대해 "롯데 잔류가 최우선"이라고 원칙적으로 말해왔다. 그러면서도 내심 일본 진출을 기대하고 있는 것으로 알려졌다. 특히 지난 겨울 롯데 구단과 연봉조정신청(구단 제시액 6억3000만원에 계약)까지 가는 과정에서 이대호의 이적 가능성이 제기된 바 있다.

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