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Monday, November 25, 2013
Rangers should sign Shin-Soo Choo

By David Schoenfield

After the Rangers made the blockbuster Ian Kinsler-Prince Fielder trade, the front office made it clear the team was far from done making moves this offseason.

"We'd still like to add to the offense," general manager Jon Daniels said after acquiring Fielder. "That's probably still our top goal, our top objective, but we're open to improving the club any way we can. That could be with an obvious name that everybody is talking about, or it could be in the area of adding depth, filling out the club and giving Wash [manager Ron Washington] some options. We're not ignoring the pitching staff by any stretch. We're open to a variety of ways to improve the club."

Shin-Soo Choo
Shin-Soo Choo was fourth in the majors with a .423 on-base percentage in 2013.
The Rangers have been linked to all of the prominent outfielders on the free-agent market -- Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson. There is also the possibility they would bring back Nelson Cruz. In theory, the team could also trade Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar to acquire an outfielder and then sign Robinson Cano to play second base.

The Cano idea is probably unrealistic; for one thing, Andrus would be difficult to trade because of a contract that owes him at least $124 million through 2022. Profar is inexpensive and still has breakout potential as he enters his second season in the majors. That leaves signing one of the outfielders as the most logical upgrade and the answer is clear which one the Rangers should go after: Choo.

Some have suggested the Rangers need right-handed power, especially with Cruz likely departing and the loss of Kinsler. But the Rangers actually hit left-handers marginally better in 2013:

versus LHP: .266/.337/.414
versus RHP: .261/.317/.411

The Rangers' biggest offensive problem in 2013 wasn't power. Rather, it was getting on base against right-handed pitching. They ranked just eighth in the American League in that category, after ranking fifth in 2012 (.329), second in 2011 (.338) and third in 2010 (.343). Thus the acquisition of Fielder to help alleviate some of those issues.

But Daniels won't stop there. On-base percentage is more important than power and getting on base is Choo's specialty. He ranked fourth in the majors in OBP in 2013 with a .423 mark and second in the majors (behind Reds teammate Joey Votto) with a .457 mark against right-handers. Even if 2013 was Choo's best season, he's still an on-base machine -- he owns a .389 career mark and ranks fifth in the majors over the past five seasons (minimum 1,500 plate appearances).

Choo isn't without power -- 16 home runs with Cleveland in 2012, 21 with Cincinnati -- and would bring an impact bat to the top of the Texas order. Rangers leadoff hitters (primarily Kinsler) were OK in 2013, ranking fourth in the AL in OBP and sixth in OPS, but were just 11th in runs scored. Some of that was because the No. 2 hitters (primarily Andrus) were among the league's worst, ranking 12th in OBP and 14th in slugging percentage. Studies have shown that the No. 2 position in the lineup is actually the spot where you should put your best hitter. Andrus' lack of power makes him a poor choice to bat second.

If Washington insists on keeping Andrus as the top of the order, however, he could roll out a lineup like this:

SS Andrus
LF Choo
3B Beltre
1B Fielder
RF Alex Rios
2B Profar
DH Mitch Moreland
C Geovany Soto
CF Leonys Martin/Craig Gentry

The Rangers were 11th in the AL in runs scored from their No. 1 and No. 2 hitters. Signing Choo would improve them in that category.

Now, Choo isn't without his flaws -- he can't hit left-handers, but you could move up Profar or Gentry against southpaw starters and slide Choo down (although Reds manager Dusty Baker never did it). The Reds played him out of position in center, but Choo should at least be adequate in left.

In the end, Choo makes more sense than Ellsbury, Beltran, Granderson or Cruz. Ellsbury will be more expensive, and a large portion of his value comes from playing center field, but the Rangers are covered there with Martin and Gentry. Beltran comes with declining range, age issues and his own platoon splits -- he had a .281 OBP against left-handers in 2013 (although he was better in 2012). Granderson's power could play well in Texas, but he won't match Choo's on-base ability.

So Choo to the Rangers makes perfect sense ... and considering the team's positive cash flow, maybe even leave some dollars left over to sign Beltran to DH.

How would that lineup look?