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(LEAD) Free agent slugger Lee Dae-ho returns home after solid rookie year in majors

All Headlines 19:13 October 31, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS comments, photo)

INCHEON, Oct. 31 (Yonhap) -- Free agent slugger Lee Dae-ho returned home Monday after completing a solid rookie season in Major League Baseball (MLB).

The 34-year-old hit 14 home runs and drove in 49 runs in 104 games for the Seattle Mariners, while platooning at first base with left-handed veteran Adam Lind.

The former MVP in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) had enjoyed four strong years in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), winning the 2015 Japan Series MVP for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

Lee left behind a lucrative offer from the Hawks to pursue his big league dreams and signed a one-year minor league deal with the Mariners, with US$1 million in guaranteed salary and an invitation to the big league camp.

The slugger worked himself into the 25-man roster and hit his first big league home run in just his fifth career at-bat, the fastest by any Korean player.

Both Lee and Lind are free agents, and the Mariners are expected to let go of Lind after acquiring younger left-handed first base prospect Dan Vogelbach from the Chicago Cubs in July.

The Mariners will still need a right-handed option at first base and could bring back Lee if they can't find an alternative.

Lee said he was "proud" to have completed his first major league season, but he doesn't know for sure where he will play in 2017.

"My manager (Scott Servais) told me he'd like to have me for next year, but this isn't the time to talk about my contract status," Lee told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "Playing time is an important factor to consider when choosing a team. But I wish (the media) would stop speculating. I will let my fans know as soon as a decision is reached. I will have to talk with my agent and my family."

Free agent slugger Lee Dae-ho speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport on Oct. 31, 2016, after returning home following a season with the Seattle Mariners. (Yonhap)

Lee said he had "a long season" because he put in extra work to prove detractors wrong and show them he could play in the majors.

"A lot of people thought I couldn't make it in the big leagues, but I challenged myself because I had confidence in myself," Lee said. "I learned a great deal from playing with good players on a big stage."

Lee said Robinson Cano, the Mariners' All-Star second baseman, also texted him after the season that he wanted to have the Korean back in Seattle next season.

As grateful as he is for such show of support, Lee said he'd have liked to play in more games in 2016.

"Early on, it was fun to come off the bench to pinch hit, but it started to hurt my pride later," Lee said. "I wanted to play more, but it's entirely up to the manager how he runs the team. I have no hard feelings for manager Servais. If anything, I should have played better and tried harder."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
(END)

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