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Jung Hoo Lee posted to MLB: Everything to know about former KBO MVP

After stardom in Korea, the 25-year-old is set to become one of the top free agents available in a very thin position-player market.

Jung Hoo Lee of Team Korea high-fives teammates after scoring in the first inning during Game 10 of Pool B between Team Korea and Team China at Tokyo Dome on Monday, March 13, 2023 in Bunkyo City, Japan. Photo by Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images

As the 2023 MLB Winter Meetings get underway, a potential game-changer has just jumped into the free-agent pool: According to numerous reports, star Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee has officially been posted by his KBO team, the Kiwoom Heroes, meaning he now has 30 days to negotiate (and find a deal) with any MLB club of his choice.

For those unfamiliar with how this system works, all players looking to make the jump from Korea’s KBO (or any other foreign league) must be “posted” — basically, made available to MLB teams — before contract negotiations can begin. Whichever big-league club is lucky enough to land Lee will have to pay a sizable posting fee to the Heroes in addition to whatever contract they agree to with the player.

But while Lee might not be a household name yet — or even as well-known as, say, Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who was posted last month — he’s a 25-year-old former MVP with a long track record of elite production in his home country. And in a market thin on impact position-player talent (especially in the outfield, where big-money teams like the Yankees and Giants have glaring needs), don’t be surprised if he commands quite the bidding war. Here’s everything you need to know.

Jung Hoo Lee scouting report

An ankle injury cut Lee’s 2023 season short, but he still slashed 318/.406/.455 with six home runs in just 86 games (plus an emotional farewell at-bat in the Heroes’ final home contest of the year, in which he appeared to get down the line pretty well for a player not even three full months out from ankle surgery). Over seven pro seasons, Lee has put up a .340/.407/.491 batting line, including a .996 OPS and career-high 23 home runs en route to MVP honors in 2022.

That sort of power likely won’t translate to the States, but otherwise those numbers paint a pretty good picture of who Lee is as a player: He’s a very good hitter who will make tons of contact — he posted an elite 91% contact rate this past season — and get on base a bunch, and his plus athleticism makes him an asset both in center field and on the basepaths.

There’s a chance that he simply doesn’t do enough damage against MLB-caliber pitching, but that’s a very solid floor to start from, and Lee would look awfully good at the top of plenty of teams’ orders.

How much he might command in free agency remains a bit unclear. But given his age, track record and the fact that he’s represented by Scott Boras, it seems all but certain that Lee will shatter the previous record for a player coming over from the KBO: the six-year, $36 million deal the Dodgers gave Hyun-Jin Ryu in December of 2012. Andrew Benintendi seems like a reasonable player comp for Lee — plus hit tool, good defender, little power — and he commanded a $75 million contract from the White Sox just last winter.

Something in that area would seem about right here, although the final number will likely be affected by the posting fee structure that Lee will be subject to. Whichever team signs Lee will have to pay the Heroes a posting fee that is based on the size of his MLB contract. Here is the posting fee structure:

Contract worth less than $25 million: 20% of contract value

Contract worth $25 million to $50 million: $5 million plus 17.5% of amount over $25 million

Contract worth more than $50 million: $9.275 million plus 15% of amount over $50 million

A hypothetical $75 million contract would come with a $13.025 million posting fee. That fee does not count against the competitive balance tax payroll, which is good news for large-market teams, but it’s still a real expense. The team that signs Lee will have to cut the Heroes a pretty big check, although they’ll be getting a solid contributor in return — in a market that doesn’t have a ton of them in center field past Cody Bellinger.