San Francisco Giants: Welcome Jung Hoo Lee

Putting the disappointing news of Shohei Ohtani’s defection to the evil Dodgers fast behind them, the Giants have reportedly secured one of the top free-agents on the market, Jung Hoo Lee.

Regular readers will recall that Lee recently featured on my winter wish list; so it was with great joy I woke up to discover the South Korean centre fielder is set to call San Francisco his home for the next six years, on a deal expected to be worth $113 million (with an opt-out after four years).

The addition of Lee is an exciting one, adding an elite contact bat to the top of the lineup as well as stellar defence at a key position (that desperately needed an upgrade). At just 25-years-old, the Giants are bringing Lee on board at the perfect time, and should get the best of his prime years wearing the orange and black.

Long considered one of Korea’s best players, Lee carries a star-studded résumé with him across the Pacific Ocean: Five consecutive Gold Glove awards, an astounding .340/.407/.491 (BA/OBP/SLG) slash line during his seven-year KBO career, and possibly the best nickname in baseball: “Grandson of the Wind,” in homage to his superstar shortstop father, Jong Beom Lee, “Son of the Wind.”

Among his many accomplishments, we must discuss Lee’s historic 2022 KBO MVP triumph. Lee hit .329/.421/.575 for the Kiwoom Heroes (who, might I add, have beautiful burgundy uniforms), with an outrageous 175 wRC+ (per Fangraphs). His .996 OPS was the best in the entire league and his 23 home runs were a career-high, leading the way to his undisputed MVP success. In 627 plate appearances Lee struck out just 32 times, which is mind-boggling. His 66 walks were fifth-best in the league and no other player could boast such a formidable strikeout-to-walk ratio.

2023 saw Lee produce good numbers once again (.318/.406/.455) but a fractured left ankle limited him to just 86 games and clearly hampered his production. Lee’s recovery from the injury is not expected to hinder his start to life with the Giants and we should see the dynamic outfielder in full flow once 2024 gets underway.

The Giants have been scouting Lee extensively for some time and feel pretty certain they’ve got the man who fits their plan. General Manager Pete Putila even made the trip to Korea to scout Lee in person and came away suitably impressed. Despite possessing multiple in-house options in centre field, acquiring outside help at that position was a top priority entering the offseason. It’s a huge relief the Giants were able to address this area of need before Christmas and not leave us all guessing during the holidays.

Fans aren’t blind to the fact there’s always risk involved where free-agents are concerned, and the risk only increases with international players. Lee won’t be expected to compete for 2024 MVP honours in MLB but his history in Korea suggests he can be an above-average contributor at the very least. Lee’s lack of power is well documented but he can still be incredibly successful for the Giants without hitting 20 home runs every year. I already envision his left-handed swing complimenting Oracle Park and it’s infamous Triples Alley; Lee’s superior hitting and running ability should see him waving to fans from atop third base with some regularity.

The arrival of Lee into an already crowded outfield would indicate there is more movement still to come: Mike Yastrzemski, Michael Conforto, Mitch Haniger, Luis Matos, Heliot Ramos, Austin Slater and Wade Meckler are all on the 40-man roster and the Giants can only field three outfielders at a time. I would envision Lee to feature daily in centre, Yastrzemski in right field the majority of the time, and a righty/lefty platoon of Haniger and Conforto in left field. Perhaps one or more of the above could be traded for pitching help? The Giants will consider it, if the right offer presents itself.

Another exciting aspect to Lee’s acquisition is the future impact it has on another Korean star, Lee’s best buddy and current Padre infielder, Ha-Seong Kim. The 28-year-old has enjoyed three largely positive years in MLB since making the switch from KBO, and is likely to test free agency in the 2024 offseason (if he declines his option as expected). Kim is already familiar with new Giants skipper Bob Melvin and now his mate Lee will be in town, it could convince Kim to head north and settle in San Francisco. I love the idea of Kim joining the Giants next year to bolster their infield depth, but that’s something to look forward to on another day.

Unlike the chase for Ohtani, where the odds always felt stacked against the Giants, the pursuit and acquisition of Lee has been seemingly effortless. Lee appears to be a natural fit and instantly solves multiple problems.

Hopefully Lee will prove to be the first of many new faces and the club will remain active in the market and continue to build the team. A shiny new Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Matt Chapman would be more than welcome. The Giants need to win on the field but they also need to win back their fanbase, many of whom were disheartened with the uninspiring play witnessed in 2023.

Lee will definitely help with that. I’m already looking forward to seeing him on Opening Day.

Ash Day is the San Francisco Giants writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on X (Twitter) @AshDay29

Photo credit for featured image by Kenta Harada/Getty Images.

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