'An absolutely perfect fit': Giants officially introduce Lee

December 16th, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO -- put on his new Giants cap, tucked his hair behind his ears and immediately flashed his charm by leaning into the microphone to pose an important question to the two dozen or so media members who gathered for his introductory press conference at Oracle Park on Friday afternoon.

“Handsome?” Lee asked, drawing laughs from the crowd.

The Giants sure like the look of the 25-year-old Lee, who is expected to serve as the club’s new center fielder after inking a six-year, $113 million contract that includes an opt-out after the 2027 season.

“We think this is an absolutely perfect fit,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. “As we’ve talked about entering this offseason, our goals were to get more athletic as a team, from an offensive standpoint to make more contact and play the kind of baseball where the industry seems to be trending towards. Honestly, as we looked at our options this offseason, there was no player, no target, who was more of a perfect fit for what we were hoping to achieve than Jung Hoo.”

Known for his elite contact skills, Lee posted an eye-popping .340/.407/.491 slash line during his seven seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization and will now aim to keep that success going as he makes the jump to the Majors.

“I always have loved the Bay Area, from coming here as a young ballplayer,” Lee said in his opening remarks, delivered in English. “I am here to win, and I will always give my best for my teammates and friends. Let’s go Giants!”

Here are a few other takeaways from Lee’s 33-minute press conference:

1. An international scouting trip helped boost the Giants’ pitch

Zaidi said Lee was a “very coveted player in free agency,” though the Giants made their interest known early by sending general manager Pete Putila to South Korea to watch Lee’s final game with the Kiwoom Heroes in October. 

Lee took only one at-bat after recovering from the left ankle surgery that cost him much of the 2023 season, but he took notice of the Giants’ willingness to go the extra mile -- literally. 

“It’s really nice to tell the player that an organization's interest level is to where they’ll fly 30,000 miles to watch one at-bat,” agent Scott Boras said. 

“Unbelievable,” Lee said via interpreter Tad Yo. “You didn’t even think about him coming, and the fact that he came was an honor for me. Very, very honored that someone of Pete’s caliber and position would come and watch me play, especially [for] one at-bat.”

2. Lee is fully recovered from ankle surgery

Some Giants fans held their breath as they awaited the results of Lee’s physical on Thursday. Lee’s ankle injury brought back bad memories of the club’s failed deal with Carlos Correa, whose 13-year, $350 million contract fell apart due to a similar medical issue last year. 

Still, no red flags ended up being raised with Lee, who said he’s back to full strength and is expecting to be ready for Spring Training. The Giants will be counting on Lee to regain his speed and athleticism, as Zaidi said the Korean star will be expected to patrol center field on an everyday basis. 

With Lee in the fold, the Giants are unlikely to go after other free-agent outfielders like Cody Bellinger, though Zaidi didn’t rule out the possibility of making another acquisition this offseason. 

“I think it’s a possibility, but not necessarily,” Zaidi said. “We don’t have anything imminent there.”

3. Lee is confident he’ll be able to handle the transition to the Majors

The jump to the big leagues tends to be more challenging for KBO hitters than their Japanese counterparts due to the increased velocity from Major League pitchers, but the Giants believe Lee’s success will translate due to his premium bat-to-ball skills.

Zaidi said one statistic that stood out from Lee’s MVP campaign for the Heroes in 2022 was the fact that he crushed 23 home runs while striking out only 32 times over 142 games.

“Forget about walks to strikeouts, to have your homer and strikeout numbers that close in any league is really impressive,” Zaidi said. “I think for our scouts, not just the numbers that we looked at, his pitch recognition is really good. When he takes a pitch, he recognizes it really early. That’s why we have a lot of confidence that that skill set can really translate.”

Lee said he’s already sought advice from the Padres’ Ha-Seong Kim, his former Heroes teammate, and is looking forward to putting those tips into practice soon.

“I’m a little nervous to say this, but from Opening Day on, the fans will be impressed with the skill set,” Lee said.