- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Shin-Soo Choo is, by acclamation, a very good player with a lot to offer a major league team. But the speculative frenzy surrounding him at the winter meetings has more to do with falling dominoes than his stellar on-base percentage.
Now that free agents Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson and Mike Napoli are off the board, the focus naturally turns to Choo, a hit-by-pitch and OBP machine who has a special niche as a true leadoff hitter. He's sure to be a prime topic of conversation when agent Scott Boras emerges from his suite and gives his annual State of the Boras Corporation Clientele update in Orlando in the next day or two.
A year ago at this time, most executives envisioned Choo as a nice five-year, $80 million player. He has yet to make an All-Star team or finish higher than 12th in MVP balloting, and he's a career .243 hitter with a .680 OPS against left-handed pitching. But the gusher of TV money and the baseball-wide run on hitters has accelerated the pursuit of Choo and sent the estimates of what it will take to sign him into orbit.
Entering the offseason, Boras was looking for a deal with a total payout exceeding Jayson Werth's seven-year, $126 million agreement with the Washington Nationals in 2010. After landing Ellsbury with the Yankees for $153 million, Boras is seeking another huge payday for Choo.
What will the team that ultimately signs Choo be getting?
"For the next two or three years, he's probably going to be an elite on-base guy," said an American League executive. "He's a plus makeup guy. He'll give you some power and probably play average defense on the corners. He's a very good hitter, but he's 31 next year. If you sign him to a seven-year deal, you know you'll be looking at a significantly declining skill set over the last 3-4 years of the deal."
Where could Choo ultimately land? Keeping in mind that the landscape can change at a moment's notice, here's a list of teams that have voids in the outfield or have been linked to Choo in media reports:
The Rangers have engaged in some dialogue with Boras about Choo, but he's too pricey for their tastes at the moment. Barring a change, Texas could simply opt to bring back Nelson Cruz on a shorter-term deal. If Cruz returns and joins Alex Rios, Leonys Martin and the newly-acquired Michael Choice in the outfield mix, it's tough to see where Choo would fit in Arlington.
They're in desperate need of an outfield bat. But after spending $240 million on Cano, how high are they willing to go on Choo? The Mariners and Red Sox are among the teams that have been mentioned as potential landing spots for Matt Kemp if the Dodgers move him in a trade. So that's another possibility.
If Boras does take Choo to Seattle, the Mariners might want to consider a dual news conference involving both Cano and Choo. How much fun would it be to see Boras and Jay Z on the same podium?
A lot of people considered the Tigers a sleeper for Choo, in part because of Boras' long-standing relationship with owner Mike Ilitch and success at steering big-ticket clients to Detroit. But the Tigers' outfield shopping is complete now that they've signed Rajai Davis to a two-year deal. Detroit's main objectives now are upgrading the bullpen and trying to sign Max Scherzer to an extension. That's not going to be easy.
After dumping the Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford mega-salaries and winning the World Series, the Red Sox don't seem inclined to jump into the deep end of the pool with another $100 million-plus free-agent deal. And if the Sox were going to spend nine figures on an outfielder, wouldn't they have made a more serious push to bring back Ellsbury?
They need an outfield corner bat. But after spending $166 million on Hunter Pence, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong, they're in bargain-hunter mode. It would make more sense to add a Michael Morse-type (or the real Michael Morse) to share time with Gregor Blanco in left field. There's also been some buzz about the Giants trading for Brett Gardner and moving Angel Pagan to left.
He was a nice fit at the Great American Ball Park. But with $300 million-plus already invested in Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, the Reds would have to see Choo's price drop considerably to have a reasonable shot at bringing him back. It's time for Billy Hamilton to set up shop in center field in Cincinnati.
Chris Davis was the only Baltimore regular with an on-base percentage above .330 last season, so Choo (.423 OBP at leadoff last season) would be a welcome addition at leadoff. But Adam Jones, Baltimore's best player, is signed to a long-term deal for $85 million, so the Orioles would probably be hesitant to go much beyond that. The O's also face the prospect of Davis and fellow Boras client Matt Wieters hitting the free-agent market after the 2015 season. They might want to conserve their resources now to have any chance to bring back one or both of those players later.
The Diamondbacks were always a long shot for Choo given their payroll limitations. Arizona has $65 million committed to seven players and a projected payroll of $100 million in 2014, so owner Ken Kendrick was going to have to seriously stretch the budget to fit Choo into the equation.
Now that the D-backs have added Mark Trumbo in a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago White Sox to fill their need for a corner outfielder, Towers can turn his attention to his other offseason priority -- trying to deal for a workhorse starting pitcher.
After adding Ellsbury and Beltran through free agency, the Yankees have six outfielders on the roster (Ellsbury, Beltran, Gardner, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki). With holes to fill at second base, third base, the starting rotation and the bullpen, GM Brian Cashman will probably take a pass on adding a seventh outfielder to the mix.
Barring the addition of a "mystery" team to the list, those look like Boras' options. It doesn't necessarily bode well for Choo to land a deal of $130 million-plus for six or seven years. But feel free to stop us if you've heard that one before. If the first month of the Hot Stove season is any indication, we should probably expect the unexpected.