By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Jan. 2 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean baseball club Kiwoom Heroes said Monday they will post reigning league MVP Lee Jung-hoo after the 2023 season, thereby granting Lee's wish to take his talent to Major League Baseball (MLB).
Lee first expressed his intent to play in the big leagues on Dec. 19. The 24-year-old will become eligible for posting if he plays the full season in 2023 and thereby completes his seventh campaign in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).
The Heroes still had to agree to post Lee, and they gave him the green light on Monday.
"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."
Under the posting system, any interested MLB club can negotiate with the posted KBO player during a 30-day window.
The Heroes previously sent three players to MLB through the posting system: shortstop Kang Jung-ho (Pittsburgh Pirates), first baseman Park Byung-ho (Minnesota Twins) and shortstop Kim Ha-seong (San Diego Padres).
In a statement released by the Heroes, Lee thanked the club for giving him an opportunity to realize his dream.
"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. "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."
Widely considered the best pure hitter in the KBO, Lee has attracted major league scouts in recent seasons as the next big KBO star to head to the big show.
Lee won the 2022 regular season MVP in a landslide after leading the KBO in five major hitting categories: batting average (.349), hits (193), RBIs (113), on-base percentage (.421) and slugging percentage (.575).
Among all KBO hitters with at least 3,000 plate appearances, Lee has the highest career batting average with .342.
Lee, son of KBO legend Lee Jong-beom, burst onto the scene in 2017, winning the Rookie of the Year after batting .324. He has yet to bat lower than that since.
In 2022, Lee established new career highs with 23 home runs, 113 RBIs and a .575 slugging percentage, showing some power potential while playing in a pitcher-friendly park with offensive numbers down across the KBO.
Lee also drew 66 walks but struck out just 32 times in 2022, the fourth consecutive season in which he had more walks than strikeouts. For his career, Lee has earned 334 free passes against 281 strikeouts in 3,560 plate appearances.
From Lee's first season in 2017 to 2022, no one has collected more hits in the KBO than Lee's 1,076. Over that six-year stretch, Lee ranks first in batting average (.342), first in doubles (221), third in total bases (1,556), third in runs (531) and fourth in on-base plus slugging (.902).
If a KBO player signs a major league contract, his former KBO club will receive a fee, depending on the guaranteed portion of the contract.
If the guaranteed value of the deal is US$25 million or less, the fee will be 20 percent of the contract. If the contract is worth between $25,000,001 and $50 million, the fee will be 20 percent of the first $25 million, plus 17.5 percent of any amount exceeding that $25 million.
If a player signs for more than $50 million, his former KBO team will receive $9,375,000 and then 15 percent of the amount exceeding $50 million.
Under an agreement between MLB and the KBO, a major league team interested in a South Korean player, professional or amateur, must complete the status check through the league offices. Once MLB requests a status check, the KBO must respond within four business days. In these instances, MLB must not reveal the identity of big league clubs inquiring about the Korean player in question.