2016 Statistics: 104 G, .253/.312/.428, 14 HR, 102 wRC+
Age on Opening Day 2017: 34
Position: First base
For just the fifth time in the last 33 years, the Yankees will enter 2017 with a new starting first baseman. Early on, the signs point toward Greg Bird returning from shoulder surgery to receive the Opening Day nod, with Tyler Austin in the mix as well. That does not necessarily mean the Yankees should rest on their laurels, though.
A lack of much first base insurance in 2016 combined with the rampage of injuries led to the likes of Dustin Ackley and Ike Davis getting starts. So while the Yankees should still plan for Bird to receive the lion’s share of the starts, it would be wise to sign another first base option anyway. Enter Dae-Ho Lee.
A 15-year veteran of the Korean and Japanese baseball leagues, Lee slugged 323 bombs abroad, including 31 in 2015. He decided to come stateside on a one-year, $1 million deal with the Mariners last year. Lee quickly became a fan favorite for his power, which produced 14 homers in just 317 plate appearances, a homer rate even better than starters Jose Abreu and Eric Hosmer. The man clearly has some pop:
Lee would make a nice addition as a right-handed alternative at both first base and DH, allowing Bird to ease back into regular action without necessarily needing a 150-game season, while also providing a potential alternative to Brian McCann when lefties take the mound. Lee hit .261/.329/.446 against southpaws in 2016, and he has the opposite-field power to take advantage of the Yankee Stadium short porch. He slugged .407 off righties, too, so if the Yankees dealt McCann, then Lee might be an intriguing low-cost regular DH option, too.
The Mariners said that they were unlikely to take Lee back now that they have acquired Danny Valencia via trade. He has been open about wanting more playing time than Seattle gave him in 2016 though, so convincing Lee to join the Yankees might be a tough sell. Even if he doesn’t get that opportunity from any major-league team, it’s definitely possible that he returns to Japan or Korea.
It’s not really a secret that Lee fails to offer much more than power to a lineup. His defense, baserunning, and plate discipline are nothing to write home about. Age is not on his side, and his .582 second half OPS suggests that the league might have simply figured him out.
Those are the reasons why Lee probably wouldn’t make much of a starter, though. Bench players have warts for a reason, but they can still be quite useful. Ruben Sierra nearly had a 20-homer season at age 37 for the 2004 Yankees despite receiving a similar workload to Lee in 2016. A guy like that on the 2017 Yankees would be nice, and Austin’s presence does not mean that possible bench power like Lee’s should be ignored.
If Lee is receptive to taking a back seat to Bird, then there could be a match. Who doesn’t love some dingers?