The SF Giants and New York Yankees are vying for the top center fielder on the market. However, Jon Morosi of the MLB Network predicts that both teams will also be in the mix for Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) star Jung-Hoo Lee.
SF Giants and Yankees expected to pursue KBO star outfielder
Giants Team president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi indicated earlier in the offseason that adding a pure center would be a top priority. He did not explicitly list Lee as a potential target, but the KBO outfielder certainly checks that box of a reliable outfielder.
The Kiwoom Heroes are expected to post the left-handed bat in the coming days where he will be free to negotiate with all 30 teams. The team that ends up signing him will owe the Heroes a posting fee that is based on the contract amount.
Lee has had a very strong career in the KBO, posting a .340/.407/.491 line with a 9.7 walk rate, 7.7 percent strikeout rate, and a .151 ISO across seven seasons. He has excellent contact skills and sprays the ball all around the field, but he does not hit for much power. Giants hitters posted a 24.5 percent strikeout rate in 2023, so there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of putting the ball in play.
The left-handed bat had a strong 2023 campaign in which he tallied an .860 OPS with six home runs in 387 plate appearances. He finished the year on the injured list after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a fractured ankle, but he is expected to be ready by spring training.
The seven-year veteran has spent the bulk of his time in center field and he has been well-regarded at that position, earning five Gold Glove awards. He has the speed to stick in center field long term, so he would check an important box for the Giants.
MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Lee will earn a five-year, $50 million deal this winter. That could prove to be a nice bargain if his offensive production translates to the majors, but one way or the other, he should be an above-average outfielder who puts the ball in play a lot.
Cody Bellinger is the top center fielder on the market and Lee is likely the second-best option. After that, the remaining alternatives are more stopgap options than long-term solutions. This list includes Michael Taylor, Kevin Kiermaier, and Harrison Bader. The Giants are casting a wide net this winter as they seek to bolster a roster that won just 80 games in 2023, but this is one area that they should be upgrade in free agency.