Most of the offseason buzz surrounding the Mets has focused on their pursuits of pitching, but USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Amazins also have “strong interest” in outfielder Jung Hoo Lee. Between New York’s known interest in Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Shota Imanaga, and now Lee, it is clear that the Mets are taking a particularly hard look at the overseas market as an avenue to add talent to the roster.
Though David Stearns is now in charge of the Mets’ front office, the international market isn’t exactly a new direction for the club, considering that Kodai Senga was signed to a five-year, $75M deal just last offseason. That deal is looking like a wise investment considering Senga’s success in his first MLB season, and adding any of Lee, Yamamoto, or Imanaga would be an intriguing upgrade over the long term. This fits with the general assessment that the Mets are more focused on 2025 as the target date for their true return to championship contention, though the team still wants to achieve some on-field success in the coming season.
Lee is expected to be posted by the KBO League’s Kiwoom Heroes any day now, and once he officially hits the market, the Mets and other teams will have 30 days to reach a contract with the 25-year-old outfielder. If no deal is reached, Lee will return to the Heroes for the 2024 KBO season and have to wait until next offseason to seek out a Major League deal, yet there seems to be enough interest in his services now that Lee will very likely be making his big league debut in 2024. MLB Trade Rumors projected a five-year, $50M deal for Lee, and ranked him 15th on our list of the offseason’s top 50 free agents.
The Mets join the Yankees, Giants, and Padres as known suitors for Lee’s services, though the New York Post’s Jon Heyman estimates that around 20 teams have some level of interest in Lee. Naturally, owner Steve Cohen’s willingness to spend gives the Mets some level of financial advantage over a lot of suitors, and it might also help the Amazins that their overall offseason focus is a little more narrowed than most big-market teams. Whereas clubs like the Giants, Yankees, or Dodgers are broadly “in on everyone” as a matter of due diligence, the Mets’ prioritization of the 2025 season has reportedly made them less interested in many trade targets only under contract for the 2024 campaign (i.e. Juan Soto, Corbin Burnes, Tyler Glasnow, or Shane Bieber).
Lee was the KBO’s MVP in 2022 and is a five-time winner of their Gold Glove Award for his outfield work (primarily as a center fielder). His 2023 season was prematurely ended in July due to ankle surgery, though there aren’t any known complications preventing Lee from being fully fit for the start of Spring Training. With a .340/.407/.491 slash line over 3947 career plate appearances for the Heroes, Lee has been more than a match for KBO pitching, though gauging how that will translate against the higher caliber of MLB pitching is the big question for any position player coming from the hitter-friendly KBO League.
Evaluators have some concerns over Lee’s defensive future and if he can generate enough power to be a true top-tier Major League hitter, though there might be a decent talent floor in place if Lee is “only” a high average/OBP type of batter who is more than capable in left field. Sliding Lee into the Mets’ left-field vacancy makes for a very easy fit, and Lee could also get time up the middle if Brandon Nimmo was moved to left field. Public defensive metrics have been mixed at best over Nimmo’s center field glovework over the years, so even if Lee is perhaps not a sure thing at the position, he might represent at least a short-term defensive upgrade over Nimmo.