‘Grandson of the Wind’ goes to San Francisco for 6 years and 1485 billion won

바람의 손자' 6년 1485억원에 샌프란시스코 간다

Lee Jung-hoo, 25, will join Major League Baseball (MLB) next year as the highest-paid Asian-born slugger in history.

“Lee Jung-hoo has agreed to a six-year, $113 million contract with the San Francisco Giants,” local reporters familiar with Major League Baseball news said on social media on Wednesday. The deal reportedly includes an “opt-out” clause that allows Lee to terminate the remainder of his contract and find a new destination after playing four seasons.

There has been no official announcement from the Giants. However, MLB’s website, citing a source, reported on Lee’s move to San Francisco, saying, “His batting average is eye-popping, and he’s considered an above-average center fielder with the potential to make an impact in the majors on both offense and defense.” The outlet also noted that Lee is the son of legendary Korean shortstop Lee Jong-beom, who is known as the “Son of the Wind” and the “Grandson of the Wind. Hwang Jae-gyun (18 games in 2017-currently with KT) is the only other Korean player to have previously played in the big leagues in a San Francisco uniform.

Ryu Hyun-jin and Kim Hae-sung’s first signing exceeds expectations

The $113 million Lee will receive is the largest contract ever signed by a player from the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) to reach the major leagues. It surpasses the six-year, $36 million ($47.3 billion) deal Ryu Hyun-jin signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 and the four-year, $28 million ($3.68 billion) deal Kim Ha-seong signed with the San Diego Padres in 2020.

Lee’s $113 million is the second-highest total ever paid to an Asian player in Major League Baseball. Japan’s Masahiro Tanaka, a pitcher, signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the New York Yankees in 2013. Lee Jung-hoo is the highest-paid non-pitcher in Asia.

Expanding the scope to free agent contracts for Korean big leaguers, Choo Shin-soo (now SSG) signed a seven-year, $130 million contract with the Texas Rangers in 2013. Ryu Hyun-jin moved from the Dodgers to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019 on a four-year, $80 million (KRW 10.52 billion) deal. His $20 million (KRW 26.3 billion) average salary tops the list.

It is not yet known how much Lee, whose average salary is $18.83 million, will receive in each year. On average, it’s the highest among San Francisco players. Next year, Mitch Haniger (outfielder) will receive $20 million and Michael Conforto (outfielder) will receive $18 million. Logan Webb (pitcher), who re-signed for five years and $90 million ($18 million average), will get a raise each year. Next year, he’ll make just $8 million (about $10.5 billion).

◇San Francisco, missing Ohtani, is ‘all in’ on Lee Jung-hoo

Lee played his final game in a Kiwoom uniform on October 10. He played one at-bat as a pinch-hitter (infield grounder in the eighth inning) and played defense (center field) in the ninth inning of a home game against Samsung at Gocheok Dome. After undergoing surgery on his left ankle in late July, he said goodbye to fans in the final home game of the 2023 season. San Francisco general manager Pete Putilla was on hand to watch, a sign of the team’s interest in Lee.

Lee has been hailed as one of the best hitting talents in KBO history. In seven seasons in Korea, he has a career batting average of .340. Last year, he won five batting titles. He struck out at a rate of 7.7% per at-bat in his career and only 5.9% this year. The average strikeout rate for major league hitters this year was 22.7%. While Lee has only 65 home runs in his 1181 career at-bats, he has produced plenty of doubles (244) and triples (43) with his trademark precision.

When Lee knocked on the door of the major leagues, local media expected a four- to six-year deal in the $50 million to $90 million range. But the Giants lured Lee with an offer that included an opt-out clause.

After finishing fourth out of five in the National League West in 2023 (79 wins and 83 losses), the Giants were in desperate need of reinforcements. The New York Yankees and San Diego Padres were among the other teams interested in Lee. After losing out to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Shohei Ohtani (29), the biggest name in the free agency market, the Giants focused their efforts on “catching Lee Jung-hoo.

Lee Jeong-hoo to face Kim Ha-sung and Ohtani next year

On March 20 and 21, 2024, the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers will play the official opening game at Gocheok Dome.

The first game of the 2024 season on American soil will be on March 29. San Francisco will start the season with a four-game series against the same San Diego team. Lee will likely make his San Diego debut against Kim Ha-seong, who spent four years in South Korea. Kim boosted his stock this year by becoming the first Asian infielder to win a National League Gold Glove (utility).

Locally, the expectation is that he will make his Opening Day debut as the leadoff hitter and center fielder. After a four-game series against San Diego, San Francisco travels to Los Angeles for a three-game series against the Dodgers. Lee will face off against Ohtani, who joined the Dodgers from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Ohtani, a two-hitter who underwent elbow surgery in September, will play exclusively as a catcher next year. The Giants will face San Diego and the Dodgers 13 times next year, all in the same National League West division.

San Francisco’s home stadium, Oracle Park, is deeper in right-center (126 meters) than left-center (122 meters). This gives a speedy left-hander like Lee an advantage in creating long balls with pulls. San Francisco has only been invited to ‘fall baseball’ twice in nine years after winning its eighth World Series championship in 2014. Fans will be eager to see if the “grandson of the wind” can create an “upswing” in San Francisco next year.


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