The Yankees’ interest in the international market isn’t limited to just Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who Bob Nightengale recently reported is their top priority as the Juan Soto market continues to unfold. Jon Heyman of the New York Post is now reporting that Jung-Hoo Lee, the top hitter in Korea, is set to be posted tomorrow, and the Yankees are among the teams interested. Also mentioned were the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres, the latter of whom have Lee’s teammate Ha-Seong Kim.
With an incredible hit tool and excellent plate discipline, the Grandson of the Wind could be of interest to a Yankee team looking for a centerfielder.
Yankees Continue Their Search For Left-Handed Outfielders
The Yankees’ interest in Jung-Hoo Lee continues a growing pattern of left-handed outfielders that the team has shown interest in. We’ve known of the Yankees’ interest in Lee for a while, although they haven’t been able to bid for his services yet since he hadn’t been posted. That’s all set to change tomorrow, when Lee will be posted and teams will have 30 days to try to reach an agreement with the 25-year-old left-handed hitter. Jung-Hoo Lee’s skillset starts with his excellent contact rates, striking out under 10% of the time over his previous five seasons.
In 2022, he won the KBO MVP, smashing 23 home runs with a 175 wRC+ and .421 OBP, and in his professional career he’s yet to post a season with an average below .300. His OBP has never dipped below .386 as well, and his high walk rates and patient approach bode well for what the Yankees sorely need. As a team, the Yankees had a .304 OBP which ranked in the bottom five in all of baseball, and it’s why they saw the second-fewest plate appearances with runners on base, only ahead of the lowly Oakland Athletics.
Right-handed pitching has also been a thorn in the Yankees’ side over the calendar year, as the Yankees had a sub-.300 OBP and wRC+ under 90 in those matchups. This had to do with their lack of left-handed offense, as they hit the third-fewest home runs from that side of the plate (55) and that’s with the advantage of the short right-field porch. While the dimensions of Yankee Stadium don’t create advantages for lefties that many on social media portray, it’s still enough of an advantage to expect that the team shouldn’t be in the bottom 10 in most offensive categories from those types of hitters.
The injury to Jasson Dominguez has created massive questions regarding what the Yankees will do in centerfield, but having a young outfielder in his place, for now, wouldn’t block him as much as people perceive. First, while Dominguez is talented, we aren’t sure he’s an MLB-caliber centerfielder yet. This isn’t just from the lack of big-league experience, but in the literal sense as the switch-hitting outfielder has a spotty track record defensively out in center. Some scouts believe he profiles better for a corner outfield role, but those questions also exist for Lee.
While Jung-Hoo Lee has won multiple Gold Gloves in centerfield, we know that award voting doesn’t always reflect perfectly on one’s defensive skill set, and coming off of an ankle injury, that’s certainly a notable question. Furthermore, he could command a five-year deal, and perhaps the Yankees are looking for more of a stopgap such as Kevin Kiermaier, who they’ve also been linked to by Jon Heyman among others.
One thing remains clear, and it’s that the Yankees are monitoring the centerfield market, and they seem to be pretty motivated to land one from the left-handed side.