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‘Perfect fit’: Giants tout Korean star Lee’s arrival

‘Perfect fit’: Giants tout Korean star Lee’s arrival

SAN FRANCISCO — When the San Francisco Giants set out this offseason to improve on a disappointing 2023 season, adding athleticism, defense and the ability to put the ball in play were priorities.

South Korean star Jung Hoo Lee filled all those roles.

“We think this is an absolutely perfect fit,” Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said Friday at a news conference introducing Lee to the Bay Area.

“As we’ve talked about entering this offseason, our goals were to get more athletic as a team from an offensive standpoint, to make more contact and play the kind of baseball where the industry seems to be trending toward,” Zaidi said. “Honestly, as we looked at our options this offseason, there was no player, no target who was more of a perfect fit for what we were hoping to achieve than Jung Hoo.”

The baseball skills were evident from the extensive scouting the Giants did of Lee’s play in the Korean league and only reinforced with his play last spring in the World Baseball Classic. That earned Lee a $113 million, six-year contract.

Lee also showed off a bit of his personality during his news conference, punctuating an opening statement he gave in English with an emphatic “Let’s Go Giants” and giving himself the nickname “Grandson of the wind” in homage to his father, Jong Beom Lee, who was called “Son of the wind” for his speed that the younger Lee said he won’t be able to match.

“It’s an exciting day,” Zaidi said. “Obviously, he’s got a personality that really shines through, even through a translator. I think for us it’s a great baseball fit, but we’re also mindful about creating excitement and energy around the organization. You can definitely feel that today.”

San Francisco has missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons after winning a franchise-record 107 games and the NL West in 2021.

The Giants had missed out on some big-ticket free agents the past two offseasons, including when Shohei Ohtani decided last week to sign with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

They also lost out to the New York Yankees in the pursuit of slugger Aaron Judge last offseason and then decided not to finalize a $350 million, 13-year agreement with shortstop Carlos Correa after concerns arose from his physical dating to a 2014 surgery on his right leg.

Lee, 25, was posted by South Korea’s Kiwoom Heroes on Dec. 4, and if he stays for the entire contract, the Giants would owe the Heroes an $18,825,000 posting fee. If he chooses to opt out after four years, the posting fee would be reduced to $12,675,000. San Francisco also would owe an additional fee of 15% for any earned bonuses or escalators.

San Francisco was so committed to Lee that general manager Pete Putila traveled to Korea just to see one brief appearance in October.

“It’s really nice to tell a player an organization’s interest level is where they will fly 30,000 miles to watch really one at-bat,” said Scott Boras, who represents Lee.

Lee batted .318 with six homers and 48 RBIs in 86 games this year but broke his left ankle during a game against the Lotte Giants on July 22 and was sidelined for the remainder of the season.

Lee said he is 100% healed from the injury and looks forward to the challenge of playing in the majors against a higher-level of competition. But he’s confident that he will be able to make the transition and is slated to be the team’s Opening Day starter in center field.

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“I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but from Opening Day on, the fans be impressed with the skill set,” he said through an interpreter.

Last year, he hit .349 with career bests of 23 home runs and 113 RBIs in 142 games, while striking out only 32 times. He was voted rookie of the year in 2017 and MVP in 2022.

Lee also batted .429 with two doubles and five RBIs for South Korea in this year’s WBC, where South Korea failed to advance from its first-round group.

“What we’ve seen of him in international play is almost as meaningful as what we saw from him in all of his time in the KBO,” Zaidi said.

He hit .241 with three doubles, one homer and three RBIs in the 2021 Olympics, where South Korea lost to the United States in the semifinals and then to the Dominican Republic for the bronze medal.

Lee has a .340 career average with 65 homers and 515 RBIs for the Heroes, who were renamed from Nexen to Kiwoon ahead of the 2019 season. He is a six-time Golden Glove winner.

His father, Jong Beom, was Korean League MVP in 1994 and played in Japan for the Central League’s Chunichi Dragons from 1998 to 2001.


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