If you’re reading this, you know by now that the Mariners’ first basemen all sucked last year. I don’t need to put a fancy statistic here to show you just how much they sucked, you get the idea. With Logan Morrison gone, presumptive incumbent Jesus Montero now looks buried under several first base options for the Mariners, and that’s a good thing. Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto brought in what could be his most impactful acquisition of the winter in Adam Lind, added Steve Clevenger, and signed washouts Travis Ishikawa (his deal is not yet finalized and could be voided) and Gaby Sanchez to minor league deals in the hopes that one of them can contribute to the likely platoon at first base. There are reports also that Stefen Romero could see time at first base this spring. Yesterday, Dipoto officially added another name to that list of possible first base platoon mates in Dae-Ho Lee.
Lee is a Korean-born veteran of the Korean and Japanese leagues. The “Big Boy” is indeed big. He’s listed at 6’4” 284 pounds. If he doesn’t work out for the M’s, maybe Tom Cable can convert him into an offensive lineman for the Seahawks. (There are whispers somewhere on the Internet that he’s working at slimming down and may have already lost weight, but I can’t find credible sources on that.) Projecting production from Korean and Japanese league numbers to the Major Leagues is never exact, but the “Big Boy” is certainly an accomplished professional hitter. Last season, for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japan Pacific League, he slashed .282/.368/.524 and blasted 31 home runs. In 2010, he hit 44 home runs and drove in 133 RBIs for the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball League. Even if you adjust for foreign league inflation, Lee can put up useful numbers as a part of the Mariners first base platoon in 2016.
The dude is a masher. He led his Softbank Hawks to a championship last year and became the first Korean player ever to win Japan Series MVP honors. However, he’s heading into his age-34 season and he’s completely unproven at the Major League level. If Scott Servais can manage his health while keeping him fresh off the bench, he’ll have a positive impact for the Mariners. Dipoto signed him to a team-friendly deal full of incentives and no guarantee of a spot on the major league roster. Let’s face it, if he can’t launch home runs in the warm dry air of Peoria this spring, he doesn’t belong on the team. If he can, and I think he will, he’ll be a welcome addition to the Mariners bench. Gone are the days of Jack Zduriencik picking up one-dimensional players. It would appear that Lee could be a throwback to those days, but Lee’s career on-base percentage in his 15 seasons in the Japanese and Korean leagues is .387. He set a career high in strikeouts last season with 109. Dipoto is making a buy-low play for a patient, powerful slugger whose ceiling could be much higher than we think. As the king of the buy-low play, Dipoto may have added a piece that will put the M’s into contention with overwhelming depth at one of their least productive positions last year.