The Mariners Wednesday signed Korean 1B Dae-Ho Lee and C Steve Lerud to minor league contracts and invited both to spring training. Lee spent the past four seasons playing in Japan with the Orix Buffaloes, and Lerud is a minor leaguer who received a taste of the majors in 2012 and 2013 while with the Philadelphia Phillies.
“Dae-Ho gives us another potential right-handed power bat in the first base competition,” said GM Jerry Dipoto. “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.
“In Steve’s case, with the injury to Jesus Sucre, we felt it was important to identify and sign another catcher with major league experience to provide depth at a crucial position.”
The Mariners have Mike Zunino, who hit .174 in 112 games last year as the club’s starting catcher, but will start him at AAA Tacoma to continue work on his hitting mechanics.
Lee, 33, spent 2015 with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the Japan Pacific League, hitting .282 with 68 runs, 30 doubles, 31 home runs, 98 RBIs, a .368 on-base percentage and a .524 slugging percentage in 141 games.
During his four seasons in Japan, he combined to hit .293 with 242 runs, 112 doubles, two triples, 98 home runs and 348 RBIs in 570 games. Lee led the Pacific League in RBIs in 2012 and was a recipient of the 2012 Pacific League Best Nine Award (Japanese equivalent of Silver Slugger).
Lee spent the previous 11 seasons playing in Korea. He was the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) MVP in 2010, and was a four-time Gold Glove Award winner at first base (2006, 2007, 2011) and third base (2010).
He is a three-time KBO batting champion (2006, 2010, 2011), two-time home run champion (2006, 2010), two-time RBI leader (2006, 2010), three-time slugging percentage leader (2006, 2007, 2010), two-time hits leader (2010, 2011), two-time on-base percentage leader (2010, 2011) and one-time OPS leader (2010). He was also a two-time All-Star Game MVP (2005, 2008).
Lee has represented Korea in international competitions, including the Asian Games, the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic.
Lerud, 31, spent 2015 with AAA Syracuse, hitting .238 with 15 runs, seven doubles, two home runs and 23 RBIs in 60 games.
Lerud was selected by Pittsburgh in the third round of 2003 draft and has spent time in the Pittsburgh (2003-09), Baltimore (2010-11), Philadelphia (2012-13), Atlanta (2014) and Washington (2015) organizations.