South Korean Outfielder Jung Hoo Lee Gets $113 Million, 6-year Deal with Giants, AP Source Says

AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File
South Korea’s Jung Hoo Lee plays during a baseball game at Yokohama Baseball Stadium during the 2020 Summer Olympics, Aug. 2, 2021, in Yokohama, Japan.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Slugging South Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee and the San Francisco Giants have agreed to a $113 million, six-year contract, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the agreement had not been announced. Lee, a South Korean MVP and the son of a former MVP, can terminate the deal after four years and $72 million to become a free agent again.

The versatile Lee will immediately fill a huge need likely in center field for the Giants, who have missed the playoffs the past two seasons after winning a franchise-record 107 games and the NL West in 2021.

San Francisco struck the deal after failing to sign two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who reached a record $700 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi declined to address the Lee agreement Tuesday since the deal was not final. He discussed the team’s negotiations with Ohtani and said the club had made three different offers, including a final proposal very similar to the deal with the Dodgers.

The proposal that was made was very comparable if not identical to what he wound up agreeing to, Zaidi said during a video call. “We offered what would have been the biggest contract in major league history. I’m guessing we weren’t the only team that did that. But wanted to show our aggressiveness and interest right out of the gate.”

San Francisco missed out last offseason on Aaron Judge 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.

The 25-year-old Lee 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 opts out, 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.

When new Giants manager Bob Melvin was hired in October, he mentioned how he would help be a recruiter with players from Asia, given he has coached many greats — including most recently Ha-Seong Kim in San Diego.

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 the remainder of the season.

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

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

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

Now, the Giants will move forward to keep building their 2024 roster.

In terms of where we go from here, we’ve talked about our priorities of really trying to strengthen our pitching and defense. Offense was an area that went backwards last year but really our emphasis is going to be on run production, Zaidi said. “So we’re going to continue to look for athleticism up the middle of the diamond. Look for players whether it’s by trade or by free agency who will put our players in their best defensive spots, not have guys playing out of position and really support our pitching staff which we’ve talked about as the strength of our team.”