For players coming over from international countries to Major League Baseball can always be an interesting proposition. Some thrive while others falter. Despite lengthy scouting reports and hours of analysis and projections, you just never know what to expect.
There have been players like Ichiro Suzuki and Hideo Nomo as just a two of many examples who have been All-Star players in the United States. On the flip side, there are also others that most people have never heard of. There have been dozens of players to come from Asian countries to the United States and have tested out the waters of Major League Baseball, all with varying degrees of success.
There has been one team that has had some success with players coming from other countries, and that is the Seattle Mariners. They struck gold with Ichiro, but also had some success with the signings of Kazuhiro Sasaki and Shigetoshi Hasegawa to name a few plus Hisashi Iwakuma who is currently on the team.
This offseason, the Mariners have gone through a total rework of the organization with a changeover in the front office, the coaching staff, and the players between the lines. They had many gaps to fill, and didn’t wait as they signed Nori Aoki, a Japanese player, fairly early on in the free-agent process to add to that lineage of Asian players to put on a Mariners uniform.
One spot of need for the Mariners coming into this offseason was at first base, and new GM Jerry Dipoto made a deal to acquire Adam Lind to play there. The one knock on him, however, is his struggles against left-handed pitchers, which brought up the need for a right-handed first baseman to platoon with Lind. Seattle does still have Jesus Montero, Stefen Romero, and Gaby Sanchez who are all trying to earn a spot on this team come April, but Dipoto wanted some more competition.
One thing Dipoto has done well this offseason was adding depth to this ballclub and that is exactly what they did when the Mariners signed Dae-ho Lee, who has spent most of his career in Korea and Japan.
“Competition always makes me a better player,” Lee told Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times through an interpreter. “I just want to enjoy it. I just want to make the team.”
Lee, who turns 34 in June, played this past season in the Japan Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball for Fukoka Softbank, and signed a one-year, $4 million deal with incentives with Seattle for 2016 a few weeks ago. He is a powerful, slugging right-handed hitter who hit .282 with an .892 OPS with 20 doubles, 31 homers, and 98 RBIs in 141 games last year.
Before his four seasons in Japan, Lee played 11 seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization and was fairly dominant, as he won the batting title three times along with the 2010 MVP. He was a very good player in his past.
“Dae-Ho gives us another potential right-handed power bat in the first-base competition,” Dipoto said. “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.”
The depth is exactly why Lee was brought in, and he is looking to make the most of it. He has experienced some pretty good success across the Pacific Ocean in Korea and Japan, and is looking to bring that over to the United States and get things going with the Mariners.
Lee has been getting some good time at first base so far this spring, after he took care of his visa issues, and has been contributing nicely as things are ratcheting up this spring down in the Cactus League in Arizona.
For Lee, it is still just spring training, and he has made only a few appearances so far. Even so, Lee is making a case to be that right-handed platoon first baseman for Seattle come Opening Day. He made his Cactus League debut on Saturday and since then is hitting .286 along with a home run on Monday.
Dae-Ho Lee has highlight reel power, and it was on display with his first home run of #MarinersST. pic.twitter.com/Lm9iOGMBja
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) March 7, 2016
In the field, he has made some nice plays including a nice diving stop in Tuesday’s game versus the Cleveland Indians and has played a solid first base in the past overseas.
Lee, at 33 years of age, can’t be expecting an everyday job, but if he continues at the pace he is going, he has to be in consideration to make the 25-man roster. Lee did sign a minor-league deal and will potentially be waiting in the wings down at Triple-A Tacoma if he does not make the roster, but he did experience great success overseas with an MVP.
He has wanted to play in the major leagues and made that clear by coming over here at age 33.
“It’s a dream come true to come to the major leagues,” he said. “This is the last stop for people who play baseball.”
With that competition, he does have an opt-out clause in his contract at the end of March, but he said, “I’m thinking past that. I don’t even think about it.”
Time will tell if the 33-year-old Dae-Ho Lee will fulfilling his dream of taking the field as a major leaguer come April.