Slugger Dae-ho Lee has decided to return to his native Korea, according to Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency (Twitter links). Lee will receive a $12.9MM guarantee over four years from his first professional team, the Lotte Giants, representing a record contract for the Korea Baseball Organization. Lee, 34, came to the majors last year after joining the Mariners on a minor-league deal. He made the roster and ultimately provided the organization with 14 long balls and a .253/.312/.428 batting line over 317 plate appearances. While that represented a solid effort for a player transitioning to the majors at this late stage of his career, there are obviously some limitations. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the right-handed hitter showed better when facing lefties. And though Lee drew roughly average ratings for his work in the field, he’s limited to first base or a DH hole. Though the Mariners had some interest in a reunion at one time, it never seemed that he’d be in line for more than part-time duty there or elsewhere in the majors. And the chance to play regularly was a significant factor, Lee said earlier in the offseason
The Diamondbacks have agreed to a minor-league deal with catcher Josh Thole, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). His potential salary and other terms have not been reported at this time. Thole, 30, had spent the last four years with the Blue Jays after an equivalent stint with the Mets. He went with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey in the 2012 swap between those organizations, and continued to function as Dickey’s personal catcher in Toronto. Though he rates as a high-quality blocker and framer behind the dish, and did hit at around a league-average rate earlier in his career, the left-handed hitter has trailed off over the last five seasons
7:45pm: The deal is complete, per Shea (via Twitter). 3:43pm: The Giants are closing in on a minor league contract with Korean third baseman Jae-gyun Hwang, tweets Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News. The contract, first reported by Naver Sports in Korea, will guarantee Hwang $1.5MM if he makes the big league roster in Spring Training, according to Baggarly. John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets that there are additional incentives beyond that guarantee, with Jee-ho Yoo of Yonhap adding (via Twitter) that they could tack on another $1.6MM. Hwang is represented by GSI and ACES. Hwang, 29, hit .335/.394/.570 with 27 home runs and 25 stolen bases last season, demonstrating an ability to sustain the power increase he showed during the 2015 season. Hwang also boosted his walk rate while more than halving his strikeout rate, which likely further piqued the Giants’ interest in his services.
The Blue Jays announced on Monday that they’ve claimed catcher Juan Graterol off waivers from the Angels and designated right-hander Leonel Campos for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. The 27-year-old Graterol will give the Blue Jays a potential option to back up Russell Martin in 2017, as the team lacks a clear option right now. A.J. Jimenez is the top internal candidate but is coming off a lackluster season at Triple-A. Toronto has reportedly expressed interest in veteran Jarrod Saltalamacchia as well, though Graterol represents a better defensive options. Graterol, 27, made his Major League debut and tallied 15 plate appearances with the Halos this past season.
The White Sox announced on Monday that they’ve signed right-handers Anthony Swarzak and Blake Smith to minor league contracts with invitations to Major League Spring Training. Smith returns to the White Sox organization, where he made his MLB debut in 2016, while Swarzak spent last season as a member of the Yankees organization. Swarzak, 31, is no stranger to the AL Central, having spent the first five seasons of his career with the Twins and part of the 2015 season in Cleveland (before departing for a stint with the Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball Organization). Last season’s return to the Majors didn’t go well for Swarzak, who struggled to a 5.52 ERA in 31 innings with the Yankees. However, from 2011-15, the former second-round pick was solid in a swingman/long-relief role, posting a 4.18 ERA with 5.6 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9 in 394 innings between Minnesota and (briefly) Cleveland. He led the Majors with 96 relief innings in 2013 and finished that season with a 2.91 ERA, but he’s been on a downhill trajectory since that time. Swarzak will give the ChiSox some depth in the ’pen and in the rotation, as he does have 32 Major League starts to his credit as well.
The Blue Jays announced that they’ve signed veteran infielder Gregorio Petit to a minor league contract and invited him to Major League Spring Training. The 32-year-old Petit spent the 2016 season with the Angels and logged a career-high 223 plate appearances over the life of 89 games. In that time, the versatile defender batted .245/.299/.348 with a pair of home runs. Petit played more than 220 innings at both shortstop and second base last season and also saw time at third base and in both corner outfield slots (albeit just three innings in right field).
Saturday’s minor moves from around baseball: The Astros have signed right-hander Dayan Diaz to a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation to spring training, tweets Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle. This will be the second stint with the Houston franchise for the 27-year-old Diaz, who broke in as a member of the organization from 2010-12. Diaz has since pitched for three other clubs, and he made his major league debut last season in a 6 2/3-inning showing with the Reds. That didn’t go well, though, as Diaz yielded seven earned runs on 10 hits and seven walks. He has been far more successful at the Triple-A level, having recorded a 2.47 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 113 innings over the past two seasons
NC Dinos of the KBO League have signed right-hander Jeff Manship, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (via Twitter). Dan Kurtz of MyKBO.net reported earlier this week that the two sides were in the process of working out a deal. Terms of the contract weren’t announced. Manship is represented by the Boras Corporation. Manship posted a 3.12 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 51.1% grounder rate and 1.64 K/BB rate over 43 1/3 innings out of the Indians bullpen last year, plus 2 1/3 scoreless innings for the Tribe during their postseason run. This came on the heels of an eye-popping 2015 season in Cleveland when Manship posted a minuscule 0.92 ERA over 39 1/3 relief innings. Despite his impressive work in an Indians uniform, the Tribe non-tendered Manship before his first stint through the arbitration process. (MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projected Manship to earn $1.2MM.) Manship’s numbers over his first six seasons prior to his arrival in Cleveland were unimpressive, and advanced metrics indicated that he may have been fortunate to deliver the results that he did last year. ERA indicators — 5.11 FIP, 4.81 xFIP, 4.53 SIERA — were much higher than Manship’s actual 3.12 ERA, and his .266 BABIP and 80.5% strand rate counteracted quite a bit of hard contact allowed by the right-hander; only 22.1% of contact allowed by Manship last season was of the soft variety, as per Fangraphs. You’d still imagine that a 2.07 ERA and 50.6% grounder rate over the last two seasons would catch the attention of at least one MLB team, though Manship will instead head to the notoriously hitter-friendly KBO.
The Braves have agreed to sign free agent catcher Kurt Suzuki, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reports. The deal is a one-year MLB contract that will pay Suzuki $1.5MM in guaranteed money, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter link), with $2.5MM available in incentives. Suzuki is represented by MVP Sports Group. Suzuki, 33, hit .258/.301/.403 with eight homers over 373 plate appearances for the Twins last season. That somewhat modest output that still represented a big improvement from a dire 2015 season for the veteran catcher, though it fell short of Suzuki’s strong 2014 campaign (.288/.343/.383 in 503 PA) that earned him an All-Star berth. [Related: updated Braves roster at Roster Resource] In Atlanta, Suzuki joins Tyler Flowers as the Braves’ top catching options. A traditional platoon isn’t an option since both are right-handed hitters, though Flowers is likely to get the bulk of starts behind the plate given his superior pitch-framing abilities. Both Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner ranked Flowers as one of the game’s best framers last season, while Suzuki was ranked near the back of the pack. (Suzuki’s defensive issues reportedly played a part in a relative lack of trade interest in his services last summer.) The Braves have been looking for catching help for much of the offseason, heavily pursuing Jason Castro and also being linked in rumors to the likes of Welington Castillo, Nick Hundley, Brian McCann and Matt Wieters. Suzuki represents something of a fallback option to those higher-profile names, and with Atlanta now ostensibly set behind the plate, it further limits the market for the still-unsigned Wieters and Hundley