Mariners ink Korean slugger Lee to Minors deal

Contract worth up to $4M with incentives, includes invite to big league camp

February 3rd, 2016

SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto's search for a right-handed hitting first baseman to platoon with Adam Lind turned international on Wednesday, as the Mariners announced they'd agreed to terms on a one-year Minor League deal with Korean slugger Dae-Ho Lee.

Also signed to a Minor League contract was catcher Steve Lerud. Both deals include an invitation to big league camp later this month. No financial terms were announced, but a report from Korean baseball writer and commentator Min Hook-ki indicated Lee could earn up to $4 million with incentives if he makes the Major League club.

"Dae-Ho gives us another potential right-handed power bat in the first-base competition," Dipoto said. "He has performed at a very high level of production in both Korea and Japan, and we are excited to see how that translates to our team."

Lee was Shin-Soo Choo's elementary school teammate

Lee, 33, put up a .282/.368/.524 line with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in 141 games last year for SoftBank in Japan's Nippon Professional League. He's played in Japan the past four seasons after beginning his career with 10 seasons in Korea.

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One of Dipoto's remaining pursuits this offseason has been to find a first-base partner to go with Lind, a lefty who excels against right-handed pitching. Converted catcher Jesus Montero is the primary right-handed option at this point, but he is out of Minor League options and still has questions about his defensive abilities at first base.

The Mariners have also signed right-handed-hitting veteran Gaby Sanchez to a Minor League deal, and Dipoto has talked of using outfielder Stefen Romero -- who played second base at Oregon State -- at first base some this spring as well.

The 6-foot-4, 286-pound Lee could give the Mariners another option with intriguing offensive potential. Lee became a free agent after leading SoftBank to the NPB championship over the Central League-champion Tokyo Yakult Swallows, when he became the first Korean-born player to be named Most Valuable Player of the Japan Series.

Left-handed hitting veteran first baseman Travis Ishikawa had been in negotiations with the Mariners on a Minor League deal last month, but that pact still hasn't come to fruition, and indications are Ishikawa may be headed elsewhere.

Lerud, 31, spent last year with Triple-A Syracuse in the Nationals organization, where he hit .218 with two home runs and 23 RBIs in 60 games. He was originally selected by Pittsburgh in the third round of 2003 Draft and has spent time in the Pittsburgh ('03-'09), Baltimore ('10-11), Philadelphia ('12-13), Atlanta ('14) and Washington ('15) organizations.

"With the injury to Jesus Sucre, we felt it was important to identify and sign another catcher with Major League experience to provide depth at a crucial position," Dipoto said.

Sucre will miss at least six months after breaking his fibula playing in Venezuela last month. That leaves Seattle with four healthy catchers on its 40-man roster in Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger, Mike Zunino and Steven Baron.