Korean first baseman Dae-ho Lee has a late March opt-out clause in his minor-league contract, a Mariners official confirmed Friday on the eve of the club’s start of official spring workouts.
Lee, 33, agreed Feb. 3 to a minor-league deal that includes an invitation to big-league camp. Lee will get $4 million if he makes the big-league club.
“This is an opportunity for Dae-ho to come over and make the big-league club,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “If not, he’s on a minor-league pay rate, and we’ll determine at that point what we do.”
The Mariners open full-squad workouts on Feb. 25. Pitchers and catchers hold their first workout on Saturday at the Peoria Sports Complex.
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 and also has an opt-out clause.
Montero is out of options, which means he can’t be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. Romero has an option remaining. The opt-out clauses permit Lee and Sanchez to become free agents rather than accept a minor-league assignment.
The Mariners signed Lee after he batted .282 last season with 31 homers and 98 RBIs in 141 games for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan’s Pacific League. He was also picked as the Most Valuable Player in the Japan Series.
A Korean native, Lee spent four years in Japan after an 11-year career in the Korean Baseball Organization. He batted .293 over the last four seasons with a .370 on-base percentage while averaging 24 homers and 87 RBIs.
“We know we got a guy with a storied history in Korea,” Dipoto said. “(A guy) who went to Japan and became a star in that league, and who has opted to come here.
“There’s no reason to anticipate he’s going to be anything but as good as he can be. Because this is where he wants to be.”
Lee previously won three batting titles and two home run titles while playing for Lotte in Korea.
Left-hander James Paxton logged his fourth bullpen workout Friday and believes he’s entering camp in, to use the hoary-but-traditional spring refrain: “I feel I probably am in the best shape of my life right now.”
Paxton is down roughly 20 pounds since the end of last season and “hovering” between 218 and 220.
“It feels like a pretty good fighting weight,” he said after a 35-pitch session. “I definitely still feel strong. I don’t feel I’ve gotten any weaker. I think that would be hard to do with the amount of lifting and training I’ve done this offseason.”
Paxton, 27, faces a spring battle to hold onto his spot in the rotation after two injury-interrupted seasons. Barring injuries elsewhere, the final spot figures to be a battle between Paxton and newcomer Nathan Karns.
The weight loss could make a difference.
“It feels a little easier going through my delivery,” Paxton said. “I’m not moving around as much weight. It’s definitely easier on my legs and my knees and joints and stuff.
“But I mostly notice it doing agilities and moving around. I think it going to make a big difference in me moving around and fielding my position. It’s just going to make that stuff so much easier.”
The agent who helped new Mariners center fielder Leonys Martin defect from Cuba in 2010 was arrested Friday after a federal grand jury indicted him on human trafficking charges.
The sealed indictment, obtained by Yahoo Sports, alleges Bart Hernandez conspired with smugglers in August 2010 to bring Martin, then a standout on the Cuban national team, into the United States.
Martin subsequently signed a five-year deal with Texas for $15.5 million on May 4, 2011. The Mariners acquired him in a Nov. 16, 2015 trade, and he projects as their starting center fielder.
Hernandez is also linked in the indictment to two other Cuban defectors: Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and Philadelphia minor-league reliever Dalier Hinojosa.
If convicted, Hernandez is likely to surrender $1.5 million in agent fees connected to the three players and could face up to 20 years in prison. The minimum sentence is three years.
Hernandez is the first person indicted in a ongoing federal investigation into the manner by which high-profile Cuban players are smuggled into the United States. He was arrested by agents from Homeland Security and the FBI.
The start of camp permits the Mariners to clear a space on their 40-man roster whenever necessary by placing injured catcher Jesus Sucre on the 60-day disabled list.
“We’ll let that time play out,” Dipoto said. “We don’t need the roster spot right now. Eventually, I would be stunned if he doesn’t end up on the 60-day DL. But we won’t use the spot until we need to.”
Sucre, 27, is expected to miss six months after suffering a broken fibula and a severely sprained ankle in his right leg on Jan. 17 in a slide at second base while playing for Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League playoffs.
Players on the 60-day disabled list do not count against a club’s 40-man roster, but their 60-day count doesn’t begin until opening day.
The rules prohibit clubs from putting a player on the 60-day disabled list unless they have no openings on the 40-man roster. The Mariners currently do not have any openings.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez arrived for camp sporting blond hair and a goatee to match…Second baseman Robinson Cano is in camp early, and he underwent a physical exam Friday (with the pitchers and catchers) after undergoing surgery last October for a sports hernia…General manager Jerry Dipoto said there were no excused absences or incoming injuries Friday when the pitchers and catchers reported for physical examinations. “They’re all here,” he said, “and we’re expecting them all to be out there (Saturday).” … Tentative plans call for the Mariners to start daily workouts at 10 a.m. Players will generally be on the field a little earlier for stretching and conditioning.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners