Dae Ho Lee Signs Record-Breaking Deal with KBO’s Lotte Giants
Dae ho Lee has reportedly signed a 15 billion won ($12.9 million) four-year deal with the Lotte Giants of South Korea’s KBO. While a $12.9 million contract is hardly a big deal by MLB standards, it completely blows up the salary expectations for KBO free agents, in that the deal is a full 50% more than the then record-setting 10 billion won four-year deal Hyung woo Choi signed earlier this off-season.
I would think that other KBO teams are likely very unhappy that Lotte spent this much money on Lee. To some degree, Lee is a special case in that he’s an extremely marketable star who has proven his abilities in MLB, Japan’s NPB and, of course, the KBO. Lee is also from Busan, the city in which Lotte plays.
The Lotte Giants had offered a likely $8 million over four years (as in NPB, four years are the longest free agent contracts KBO teams will sign) to Jae-gyun Hwang, who elected to sign with MLB’s San Francisco Giants instead, so the team had the money to spend and was itching to make big move to replace Hwang. Also, Lee had other options, as he likely could have gotten guaranteed deals in some amount from both MLB and NPB teams.
Even so, in a couple of years from now some other KBO free agent will be a position to say he is special case and the 15 won deal Lee got will be the new standard for this future contract, not the now paltry 10 billion won deal Choi inked earlier this off-season. I have to think that the cost of the top KBO free agents each off-season has just gone up dramatically.
The deal is certainly a risk for Lotte at this price. I have no doubt that Lee’s talents are such that he will return to the KBO as one of the league’s best hitters, because I have to think that the years he spent playing in better leagues will serve him well upon his KBO return.
The real risk is that Lee is going into his age 35 season, and he’s known as the Pig Tiger and Big Boy for a reason. Players his size don’t age well, and it is notable how healthy he’s been carrying 250+ pounds on his 6’4″ frame through his last five seasons.
In short, it sure seems likely that the law of averages will catch up with him in the next couple of seasons.