Cincinnati Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is one of the best players available this offseason in Major League Baseball free agency. Some experts regard him as the second best player on the market, and to the naked eye, he has the numbers to back that up.
This past season, Choo posted some pretty good numbers. He hit for a .285 average, had 21 home runs and 54 RBI’s. However, what really stood out for the 31 year-old from South Korea was his on base percentage (OBP), which came in at .423, the highest of his career and fourth best in all of the majors in 2013.
The Tigers do need a left fielder, a left-handed impact bat and someone who can hit at the top of the order and set things up for Miguel Cabrera without clogging up the base paths. So this sounds like a match made in heaven right? Well, not so fast.
First let’s take a look at his potential contract. For starters, he is a Scott Boras client. Boras is a baseball player’s best friend and a baseball owner’s and general manager’s worst nightmare. He constantly finds ways to make fans’ jaws drop in the deals he gets his clients. If you need a refresher, just think back to two years ago when he convinced Mike Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski to open up the checkbook and ink Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal.
So what will Choo command? Well, Tuesday night Boras made his first big splash of the 2013-14 offseason when he got his client Jacoby Ellsbury a deal with the New York Yankees for seven years and more than $150 million. Ellsbury is a pretty comparable player to Choo, and in this years market their deals should be similar. So let’s assume that the Yankees were a bit more giving to Ellsbury because of his speed and since he came from a division rival. Therefore, a fair prediction would probably be 6-7 years for anywhere between $125-145 million. The Tigers might need an impact bat, but they just got out from underneath the massive Fielder deal. Why would they want to get themselves right back into trouble for that long of a time period? It would just be fiscally irresponsible.
Now let’s take a look at how Choo did in the batter’s box, and more specifically against left-handed pitching. Basically, he struggled mightily. Choo managed to hit a measly .215 against southpaws and hit zero home runs against them in 181 at bats. Not a big enough sample for you? Well over the past three seasons and 495 at bats, Choo averaged only .220 against left-handers and only hit for three home runs. Now obviously, left-handed hitters have a tougher time hitting against left-handed pitching, but someone who will probably be making upwards of $15 million per year should do better than that.
Where would Choo fit into the lineup? Well, he would probably bat either lead off, second, third or fifth. Him batting third is a long shot since that spot in the lineup normally goes to the team’s best hitter (Cabrera), but Choo has had a lot of experience batting third and newly acquired Ian Kinsler and Silver Slugger Torii Hunter could fill the No. 1 and 2 spots. Some say that Choo would look good batting at the top of the Tigers’ order, and that is true, but only to a certain extent. Over the last three seasons, Choo has batted all over the order, including lead off, second, third, fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth. The only position in the order where Choo has hit over .260 is in the leadoff spot (.300).
Do not get me wrong, Choo is a very talented player. But he has never made an all-star team and his defense is not something to admire. Besides, from his above average arm, Choo’s defensive abilities have steadily declined. In 2013 his defensive wins above replacement (DWAR) was -1.8. That means that his defense led to his team losing almost two games more than if the Reds’ next best option was guarding center field. It was Choo’s first year playing center field, and as a Tiger he would be defending left, which he has only done a handful of times. However, he has played right field, but unfortunately for him the sabermetrics aren’t on his side for that position either. In 2012, while playing right field for the Cleveland Indians, Choo had a DWAR of -1.9.
Finally, if Detroit does decide that Shin-Soo is the right guy to man left field next year, in order to sign him they would be required to give up their first round pick to the Reds, as he was given and declined a qualifying offer. The Tigers minor league system has been considered relatively weak, and although they are in a win now mode, the Tigers can’t afford to be giving away too many high-valued prospects.
Choo has a lot of qualities that would be well suited for Comerica Park. As a matter of fact, in 60 at bats in Comerica Park over the last three seasons, Choo hit .333 and had an OBP of .394. He is a talented player that would look good in a lot of uniforms, but he is a player that is on the decline and currently way overvalued.
Dombrowski opened up a lot of financial flexibility with his recent trades of Prince Fielder and Doug Fister, which is something that shouldn’t be shrugged off. Detroit has a lot of moves that they can make, and you should expect the Tigers to bring in another bullpen piece, a starting left fielder and an impact left-handed bat. However, the last thing you want is for the latter two to be filled by the likes of Shin-Soo Choo.
At the right price you could convince me otherwise, but Detroit would be setting themselves up to fail if they fall for another Scott Boras trick. Proceed with caution Dave… you have a whole city counting on you to make the smart decision, not the most popular one.
Cameron Billes is the host of Horsepower for Impact Sports
Photo: Cincinnati Reds