Less than a week after general manager Jerry Dipoto hinted the Mariners might add a first baseman, the club confirmed an agreement Wednesday with Dae-Ho Lee on a minor league deal that includes an invitation to big league camp.
Lee, 33, batted .282 last season with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in 141 games for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan’s Pacific League. A South Korea native, he spent four years in Japan after an 11-year career in the Korean Baseball Organization.
The Mariners also confirmed a minor league deal with catcher Steve Lerud, which also includes an invitation to big league camp.
“Dae-Ho gives us another potential right-handed power bat in the first base competition,” Dipoto said. “He has performed at a very high level of production in both Korea and Japan and we are excited to see how that translates to our team.”
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Lee will battle Jesus Montero, Gaby Sanchez and Stefen Romero for duty as a right-handed complement to first baseman Adam Lind, a left-handed hitter. Sanchez also played last season in Japan.
The Korea Times reported early Wednesday that Lee had reached agreement with the Mariners on a one-year, $4 million deal.
Lee sought a deal with a major league team after he closed last season by becoming the first Korean-born player selected as the Most Valuable Player in the Japan Series for leading the Hawks to the title over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
“All baseball players dream of playing in the majors,” he said to The Korea Times, “and I’d like to pursue that dream. If I can give 100 percent, like I’ve done throughout my career, I don’t think it will be impossible.”
Lee averaged 143 games over the last four seasons in Japan while batting .293 with a .370 on-base percentage. He also averaged 24 homers and 87 RBIs. While playing for Lotte in Korea, he won three batting titles and two home run titles.
Because Lee was a free agent, major league teams were not required to pay a posting fee to enter negotiations. Houston and St. Louis also showed interest in signing Lee.
The News Tribune reported Saturday the Mariners had reached an agreement with Lerud, a 31-year-old with 12 years of minor league experience. His major league experience consists of nine games with Philadelphia in 2012-13.
“With the injury to Jesus Sucre,” Dipoto said, “we felt it was important to identify and sign another catcher with major league experience to provide depth at a crucial position.”
Sucre is expected to miss six months after undergoing surgery last week to repair a broken fibula and a severely sprained ankle in his right leg. He suffered the injuries Jan. 17 on a slide at second base while playing winter ball in Venezuela.
Lerud has spent time in six organizations and batted .238 last season with two homers and 23 RBIs in 60 games for Triple-A Syracuse in the Washington organization. He has a .224 career average in 867 minor league games.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners
MARINERS’ NONROSTER INVITES TO MAJOR LEAGUE CAMP (17)
▪ OF Mike Baxter
▪ RHP Casey Coleman
▪ LHP Paul Fry
▪ INF Benji Gonzalez
▪ LHP Danny Hultzen
▪ 1B Dae-Ho Lee
▪ C Steve Lerud
▪ C Marcus Littlewood
▪ INF Ed Lucas
▪ LHP Brad Mills
▪ RHP Blake Parker
▪ OF Dario Pizzano
▪ RHP Donn Roach
▪ OF Daniel Robertson
▪ RHP Adrian Sampson
▪ 1B Gaby Sanchez
▪ INF Tyler Smith