Cubs were in on Jung Hoo Lee before he signed monster deal with the Giants

Before San Francisco offered a long-term deal well above expectations, Chicago had interest in the 25-year-old KBO superstar for its center field vacancy.

San Francisco Giants Introduce Jung Hoo Lee
San Francisco Giants Introduce Jung Hoo Lee / Andy Kuno/San Francisco Giants/GettyImages

Tucked away in Patrick Mooney's Sunday piece over at The Athletic (subscription required), was something that caught my attention: the Cubs being 'in' on KBO outfielder Jung Hoo Lee before he signed a six-year, $113 million deal that far exceeded market projections.

At the onset of the offseason, MLBTR projected a five-year, $50 million deal for Lee - so it's no surprise the Cubs balked at offering him more than twice that amount. But it's interesting to see Chicago in the fray for a long-term solution in center given the presence of top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong waiting in the wings.

Cubs' interest in Jung Hoo Lee is a head-scratcher given roster makeup

Lee, a big-time contact bat in the KBO, regularly carried an OBP in the .400 range during his career in Korea. Just 25 years old, he should be heading into his prime years, and time will tell how his skillset will translate as he makes the transition to MLB competition.

Obviously, the biggest name on the center field market remains Cody Bellinger, who returned to form with Chicago in 2023, earning NL Comeback Player of the Year honors. But the distinct difference here is that Bellinger can easily shift to first base should Crow-Armstrong force himself into the outfield picture, while still being a driving force in the offense and an elite defender.

In the corners, Chicago has Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ under control on multi-year deals which, again, makes the Lee pursuit even more intriguing given there are questions whether or not he'll stick in center field for the duration of his contract.

It's a very strange report to see given the Cubs' roster makeup, but given the state of the market and the ways to improve the roster, I suppose Hoyer can't box himself into a corner positionally-speaking, either. In the end, this is another top-of-the-market free agent connected to the Cubs, only to land elsewhere - the theme of the first portion of the winter.