Lee Dae-ho of the Lotte Giants has refused to sign a new deal with the Busan-based club in order to pursue new opportunities in Japan.
The veteran slugger, who debuted with the Giants in 2001, became a free agent this winter.
His team was trying hard to retain him, offering 10 billion won ($8.7 million) in a four-year deal, which would have been the league’s biggest signing.
The current record in the Korea Baseball Organization is Sim Jeong-soo’s 6 billion won deal with the Samsung Lions in 2004.
Lee, however, refused on Saturday to sign with the Giants, ending his 11-year career with his hometown club.
Lee Dae-ho has ended his 11-year career in Busan. (Yonhap News)
“It was a hard decision. But I decided to leave the team to pursue my dreams,” Lee said in a statement.
The 29-year-old added that he believed this year would be his last chance to join the top Japanese league.
Lee has already been linked with Japan’s Orix Buffaloes. The Japanese outfit announced earlier its intension to sign the Korean slugger, reportedly offering $6.5 million over two years. Orix manger Akinobu Okada was to visit Korea Sunday to discuss the deal with Lee.
Okada has made it clear that his team needs a right-handed slugger next season, and believes Lee is the best candidate.
The Buffaloes are no strangers to Korean players. Former L.A. Dodgers pitcher Park Chan-ho and Samsung Lions slugger Lee Seung-yeop played for the team until being released at the end of last season.
The Japanese club also signed former major league pitcher Baek Cha-seung this month.
Lee’s departure will be a huge blow for the Giants and their fans. Since his debut in 2001, Lee has been consistent. He has a .309 batting average with 225 home runs and 809 RBIs in 1,150 games. In 2010, he hit 44 home runs with 133 RBIs to win the MVP award.
This season, Lee batted .357 with 27 home runs, helping the team advance to the postseason.
The Giants infielder said he felt sorry about leaving the Giants.
“They offered me their best offer, but I have decided to follow my dreams.”
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org