South Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee is one of the more intriguing players who’ll be available in this year’s free agent class. The Kiwoom Heroes will make him available to MLB teams via the posting system at some point in the next few weeks.
In an appearance on the MLB Network this afternoon, Jon Morosi suggested the Yankees and Giants are likely to pursue Lee once his free agency opens (X link). It’s not surprising that either team would have interest. Previous reports have indicated San Francisco and New York had done scouting work on Lee during his run in the Korea Baseball Organization. He fits the profile that both teams are known to be targeting this winter.
Lee, 25, is a left-handed hitting center fielder. A hit-over-power offensive player, Lee posted an OPS north of .900 in each season between 2020-22. He won the KBO MVP award with a .349/.421/.575 showing in ’22 but had a disappointing platform year. Lee’s power production plummeted; he hit only six home runs while slugging .455 over 86 games and 387 trips to the plate. His season ended in July when a left ankle injury required surgery. That came with an estimated three month rehab process, so it’s not expected to affect his availability for Spring Training.
While that’s clearly not the season Lee envisioned preceding his jump to the majors, he’ll still be a target for various teams. He’s atypically young for a free agent. Evaluators praise his pure contact skills and strike zone awareness, although there could be some division among teams about whether he projects as an MLB center fielder. Lee’s fringe power would be more alarming if a club feels he’s a better defensive fit in the corner outfield.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters at the GM Meetings they’d like to add two outfielders — ideally ones who hit from the left side. Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has suggested that adding athleticism to their outfield is an offseason priority. Not coincidentally, those clubs are generally speculated as strong fits for Cody Bellinger. Lee is a riskier bet without a body of work against big league pitching but isn’t going to approach Bellinger’s contract.
Of course, there’ll be more teams involved once the posting process gets underway. The Padres have previously been tied to Lee, while teams like the Mariners, Nationals and Royals make sense on paper. Seattle needs corner outfield help and is looking for high-contact hitters. Washington and Kansas City have short-term uncertainty in the outfield and could view Lee as a candidate for a free agent strike as they look to pull out of rebuilds. Given his youth, he’d align better with their competitive timelines than would most free agents.