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Hawks Sign Bum-ho Lee

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Hawks Sign Bum-ho Lee

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As reported first this morning by (Thanks, Gen!), the SoftBank Hawks have signed Korean 3rd baseman Bum-ho Lee of the Hanwha Eagles. A career .265 hitter who hit 25 home runs and batted .284 in 126 games with Hanwha last season, one wonders how he would make the transition to Japan like so many other Koreans.

Looking at the track record of other Korean sluggers, they have been all over the map. Lee Seung-Yeop was a high-profile signing with Lotte and destroyed Pacific League pitching for the first couple years, then went to Yomiuri and has flamed out after an excellent first season with the Giants.

Lee Byung-Gyu also had a good first season with Chunichi, but saw his average decline each of the last two years, flaming out with a dismal .218 average and 3 home runs in just 28 games in '09.

So as Hanwha's best hitter, will Lee Bum-Ho also suffer the same fate as the other two, or will he benefit from having added protection in the lineup in Matsunaka, Kokubo, and (possibly) Tamura? He may be counted on more than first expected because all three SoftBank sluggers are ticking injury time-bombs.

What I don't understand is why is SoftBank pursuing a third baseman when they already have a (potentially) stellar young one in Matsuda. After a breakout 2008 (.279, 17HR, 63RBI), Matsuda missed most of 2009 with various injuries (fractured finger, fractured elbow). I can only see this signing as a measure by the front office to ensure the Hawks have a regular third baseman, and also a vote of no confidence in both Matsuda's and Jose Ortiz's health.

What I do like about this potential signing is that Lee is young (27) and has tremendous upside because, as previously stated, he will not be counted on as heavily in the lineup like he was with Hanwha. Looking at Lee's numbers, he also has a good on-base percentage (career .356, .369 last year), which is something the Hawks need from their sluggers.

As for placement in the field, another possibility for Lee is that he could end up at shortstop, supplementing incumbent Munenori Kawasaki. "Munerin" had a dismal year at the plate (.259, 4HR, 34RBI) despite playing a career-high 143 games. His only real asset right now is his speed, and he has a lot of it (44 steals in '09), but his problem is getting on base consistently.

Lee has said his focus is driving in runs, more than hitting home runs. That is a prudent thing to do; remember Hitoshi Tamura's first season with SoftBank? The high fences and spacious confines at Yahoo! Dome are not friendly to those unfamiliar with them.

I personally am not in favor of this signing because the Hawks need more starting pitching and less of a logjam at the 1B/3B/DH spots. Don't get me wrong, I hope this signing pans out and means that the Hawks can recapture at least some of the offensive magic they had from 2003 to 2006, but I'm not counting on it. Either way, welcome to the SoftBank Hawks, Lee Bum-Ho. Good luck.
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