There may be six weeks remaining in this offseason, but it's never too early to begin looking ahead to next offseason, is it? On Monday the Kiwoom Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization announced they will post reigning league MVP Jung-hoo Lee for MLB teams following the 2023 season..
"After some internal discussions, we agreed to respect the player's intent to play in Major League Baseball," the Heroes said in a statement. "We will provide whatever support necessary for the player."
Lee, 24, slashed .349/.421/.575 with 23 home runs and only 32 strikeouts in the 144-game season in 2022. He was named Rookie of the Year in 2017 after becoming the first player in KBO history to jump into the league straight from high school. Lee is primarily a center fielder and a career .342/.407/.495 hitter with more walks (334) than strikeouts (281) in six full KBO seasons.
"The team has been giving me so much support since I was a rookie, and I was able to start dreaming about playing overseas because the team has helped me grow as a player," Lee said in a statement. "First and foremost, I will concentrate on the upcoming season. I will put aside personal ambitions and try to help the team win the Korean Series."
A left-handed hitter, Lee has freakish bat-to-ball ability and is beginning to grow into some power as well. FanGraphs calls him a precocious talent and says "Lee wields one of the sweetest looking swings on the planet and is especially good at flattening his bat path to crush fastballs at the top of the zone." He can also go down and get pitches like this:
Lee is nicknamed "Grandson of the Wind" because his father, Jong-beom Lee, was nicknamed "Son of the Wind" during his career as a KBO superstar in the 1990s and 2000s. Lee the elder still holds the KBO's single-season record with 84 stolen bases. He is a former league MVP who was second on the KBO's all-time stolen base list when he retired in 2011.
MLB's current posting agreement with KBO is identical to the posting agreement with Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball. Once Kiwoom posts Lee, MLB teams will have 30 days to negotiate and sign him, and the team that signs Lee will pay Kiwoom a posting fee based on the size of the contract. The posting fee structure:
- Contract worth less than $25 million: 20 percent of contract value
- Contract worth $25 million to $50 million: $5 million plus 17.5 percent of amount over $25 million
- Contract worth more than $50 million: $9.275 million plus 15 percent of amount over $50 million
A hypothetical $100 million contract would come with a $16.775 million posting fee. Given Lee's age (25 in August) and talent at a premium position, he figures to be extremely sought after next offseason. The largest contract ever given to a Korean player making the jump to MLB is the six-year, $36 million deal the Los Angeles Dodgers gave lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu in December 2012.
In 2020, Baseball America polled scouts about the talent level in Asia, and the consensus was KBO is roughly between Double-A and Triple-A. NPB in Japan is between Triple-A and MLB.