Hot Stove Talk: The case for Shin-Soo Choo
December, 16, 2013
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com
John Sommers II/Getty ImagesShin-Soo Choo has the numbers to show he could be a productive leadoff hitter for the Rangers.
The Texas Rangers are still looking around for a bat and two pretty big ones remain on the market -- Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz.
Texas has been linked to both and has shown interest in both players, though the price last week was too high to get anything done. The question now might be whether the price drops on either one at some point in the near future, allowing the Rangers to jump in and grab one. So while that's the case, let's take this time to look at both of them on the blog. Today, we'll deal with Choo.
The 31-year-old comes into this offseason after hitting .285 with 21 homers and 54 RBIs as the leadoff hitter for the Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati is preparing for life without Choo, as Reds GM Walt Jocketty met with Choo's agent, Scott Boras, at the winter meetings and didn't seem to think Choo would return.
"I think we have to move on," Jocketty told Reds reporters in Orlando last week. "I think that's how we have to plan, anyhow. We have to plan as if we're moving on."
The Rangers also met with Boras and rumors are Choo is looking for something similar to what Jacoby Ellsbury got from the New York Yankees (7 years and $153 million).
Among leadoff hitters, Choo's .432 on-base percentage was tops in the National League. His 21 homers were nine more than any other qualified leadoff hitter in the NL (Starling Marte was second). His slugging percentage of .481 was second among leadoff hitters to St. Louis Cardinal (and TCU product) Matt Carpenter, who was barely ahead of Choo at .483.
If you're curious, Ian Kinsler, the Rangers' leadoff hitter last year and the player it took to acquire Prince Fielder last month, had a .355 on-base percentage, which was second among AL qualified leadoff hitters. He had 11 homers from the leadoff spot (sixth most in the AL) and a .432 slugging percentage. Choo and Kinsler had nearly identical batting averages. Choo had 20 stolen bases to Kinsler's 15, though Kinsler drove in 72 runs to Choo's 54.
This isn't about comparing Choo, who plays the outfielder, to Kinsler, an All-Star at second base. But it's worth noting that the Rangers are trying to find a true leadoff hitter with Kinsler exiting to Detroit. And in Choo, they would get someone who has the key numbers that indicate he can do the job.
If Choo is signed, the Rangers could plug him into that leadoff spot and move Leonys Martin down in the order. Martin was batting just .188 in winter ball this weekend and it's unclear if he's ready to step up and seize that critical job at the top of the lineup.
Choo, though, would cost more than Cruz. The question may be how much more and for how long a term. I can't see giving Choo seven years. One big reason: His splits versus lefties. Choo hit just .215 last year with no homers against southpaws. It's a testament to Choo's approach that he had a .347 on-base percentage in spite of the poor average. That approach centers on patience. Choo's 4.23 pitches per plate appearance was the second-most in the NL last year (behind Jayson Werth's 4.24). The Rangers want to take a more deliberate approach and Choo could set the tone for that at the top of the lineup.
So it's a strong case for signing Choo. The Rangers don't want to do it at Ellsbury terms and money, but what about six years? I think with how he could help the lineup, you'd have to consider it. The risk is that Choo continues to struggle against lefties and becomes a platoon player, but with his on-base percentage, that's a chance you have to take. And as one former GM told me last week: "Hey, you're facing righties 70 percent of the time. I'd take my chances."
But whether Choo at six years is a better choice than Cruz at say, three years, is another matter. And don't forget: The Rangers would give up a draft pick to sign Choo. We'll share the case for Cruz on Tuesday.
So do you want Choo? What kind of contract would you offer him?