South Korean first baseman Dae-Ho Lee agreed to a minor-league deal with the Mariners this month because he saw it as his best opportunity to play in the big leagues.
“It’s a dream come true to come to major leagues,” he said through an interpreter Thursday after the Mariners completed their first full-squad workout. “This is the last stop for me in playing baseball.
“I’ve been playing pro baseball for the last (15) years, and this is the most prepared I have ever been in my career.”
However, Lee, at 33, faces stiff competition this spring from Jesus Montero and Gaby Sanchez to win a platoon job at first base as the right-handed partner to Adam Lind, a left-handed hitter.
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And while Lee said “competition always makes me a better player,” he balked at the idea of opening the season at Triple-A Tacoma in order to continue pursuing his big-league dream.
“I’m thinking positive,” Lee said. “Why do you want to ask a negative question? That’s a very negative question. I don’t even think about it.”
Fact is, Lee doesn’t have to think about it.
His contract with the Mariners contains an opt-out clause in late March that permits him to become a free agent. Club officials are likely to let him know at that point whether he will break camp on the 25-man roster.
“Dae-Ho turned down a lot of money (to remain in Japan),” Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “He did that because he really wants the chance to play in the big leagues. We have to be fair with him.”
Lee will make $4 million this year if he spends it in the big leagues.
The early spring projection is a battle between Lee and Montero, who is out of options. Sanchez is in camp, like Lee, as a minor-league invite, but his opt-out clause doesn’t trigger until roughly midway through the season.
Lee spent the last four years in Japan, where he batted .293 in 570 games while averaging 25 homers and 87 RBIs. He was picked as the most valuable player last year in the Japan Series after leading the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks to the title.
He previously played 11 years in the Korean Baseball Organization, where he won three batting titles, two RBI titles and four Gold Gloves.
“I’m not really a big home run guy,” Lee said. “I just try to hit everything to center and (concentrate) on controlling the ball. So when it’s hit good, it just goes to a home run.”
Center fielder Guillermo Heredia, the Cuban defector signed this week, is expected to be in camp before the end of the weekend.
The Mariners are awaiting paperwork from the Department of Homeland Security regarding Heredia, who lives in Florida after defecting in January 2015.
Heredia, 25, agreed to a deal for the major-league minimum salary of $507,500, and to what a club official characterized as a “modest” signing bonus.
While Heredia, as a member of the 40-man roster, will take part in big-league camp, he is expected to open the season at Triple-A Tacoma or Double-A Jackson. He hasn’t played regularly since 2013.
Veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit is expected to resume throwing this weekend after missing time because of some minor back tightness. “Probably in the next day or two,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He knows what he needs to do to get ready.” … Second baseman Robinson Cano displayed more first-step defensive quickness in Thursday’s first full-squad workout than he had at the end of last season. He underwent surgery in October to repair a double sports hernia. … Asked whether he had any trouble with the stress test in the Mariners’ precamp physical examination, pitcher Felix Hernandez said: “No. (Pause) Look at me, man!”
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners