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With no MLB deal yet, free agent Lee Dae-ho set to return home Friday from U.S. training camp

All News 14:13 January 25, 2016

SEOUL, Jan. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korean free agent slugger Lee Dae-ho is scheduled to return home this week from his U.S. training camp, sources said Monday, with hopes of having a big league contract with him by then.

The 33-year-old first baseman/designated hitter has been working out with his former Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club, the Lotte Giants, in Arizona this month. An official from his South Korean agency, Montis Sports Management Group, also flew to the United States with the player, working with Lee's U.S. agency, MVP Sports Group, to try to get a deal done.

Lee, who bats and throws right-handed, is coming off the most productive season of his four-year career in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). He had career highs of 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in 141 games for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and won the Japan Series MVP as the Hawks knocked out the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in five games for their second straight NPB title.

Lee, a former KBO regular season MVP, has been trying to parlay that strong season into his first big league deal, after choosing not to resign with the Hawks by declining his option.

There has been much hoopla surrounding his offseason: Lee was the only South Korean free agent to attend the annual MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, last month, and said he met with general managers from four clubs there. Montis Sports Management Group also claimed that big league officials who'd watched Lee play were effusive about the athleticism of the hulking player listed at 194 centimeters and 130 kilograms (6-foot-4 and 286 pounds).

In the meantime, two other free agents from the country, outfielder Kim Hyun-soo and relief pitcher Oh Seung-hwan, have signed with the Baltimore Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals, respectively. Lee's camp had expected to land a contract by mid-January, but with only about a month left before position players report to spring training, the time may no longer be on Lee's side. And clubs may be reluctant to sign a big-bodied designated hitter -- the former high school pitcher had played third base and first base earlier in his career -- who will turn 34 during the season.

According to Japanese media reports, the Hawks have given Lee until Saturday to decide whether he wants to return for his third season. They will start their spring training next Monday.

Lee has been getting himself on the lists of top unsigned free agents in the U.S. media, most recently on MLB.com last Friday. The website rated him seventh among 10 bargain free agents still available.

It also cited examples of players who signed with teams late in the offseason and still went on to have successful years. In 2013, Marlon Byrd signed with the New York Mets on Feb. 1 and went on to hit 24 home runs for the Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Last year, right-hander Chris Young only signed with the Kansas City Royals on March 7, but he was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series against the Mets.

Lee has pounded on pitching in the top two Asian leagues for more than a decade. He hit 225 home runs in 1,150 games in the KBO with a .309 career average from 2001 to 2011, and added 98 home runs in 570 games across four seasons in Japan.

Lee is childhood friends with Texas Rangers outfielder Choo Shin-soo. Both are from the southeastern port town of Busan and competed for rival high schools as pitchers.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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