According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the New York Yankees, despite trying to stay under a self-imposed $189 million payroll goal, are interested in big-name free agents this offseason.
Among their targets: on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo.
Earlier this month, Carlos Beltran, another high-profile free-agent outfielder, was brought up in conjunction with the Yankees. While his skill set would be an upgrade over Curtis Granderson, the October legend does come with age and durability concerns. Unfortunately for St. Louis Cardinals fans, those concerns were on display during Game 1 of the World Series.
Choo, an alternative to both Granderson and Beltran for the 2014 Yankees, comes with his own set of concerns, but he is younger than both and reaches base as well as, if not better than, any outfielder in the game. Of course, for those reasons, Choo will cost the most in free agency of the three.
As Yankees general manager Brian Cashman unearths a plan to take the Yankees back to October baseball, expect Choo's name and free-agent plight to be connected to New York over the next few months.
If the Yankees do shell out the money to land the 31-year-old outfielder, he would change the dynamic of the top of their lineup, hit for more power than in previous years and profile as less of a defensive downgrade in right field than some may believe.
Choo's potential arrival in New York, fresh off a .423 OBP for the Cincinnati Reds, would be designed to enhance the top of the Yankees lineup. Choo, despite hitting 20-plus home runs in three different seasons, won't be signed for his power. He'll be expected to help jolt an offense that produced a collective .307 OBP in 2013, the worst mark for the franchise since 1990.
To put their porous team OBP in perspective, the Boston Red Sox, the American League East champions and World Series participants, posted a .349 team mark. The 42-point difference represents a remarkable gap.
Since 2008, sorting through all outfielders with at least 3000 plate appearances, no one has reached base at a higher clip than Choo. As the following chart shows, only one veteran outfielder, St. Louis' Matt Holliday, is even within 11 on-base-percentage points of him.
|Highest OBP Among OF's (2008-2013)|
|Rank||Player||Total OBP||2013 OBP|
Projecting Choo into the current Yankees team, assuming health for incumbent veterans, would expedite an awkward and difficult decision for manger Joe Girardi: dropping Derek Jeter to the bottom of the order.
In theory, Brett Gardner (.352 career OBP), Choo (.383), Mark Teixeira (.368) and Robinson Cano (.355) would combine to form a dynamic top four in New York's order, leaving Derek Jeter to bat in the seventh, eighth or ninth spot for the first time since his rookie year of 1996.
Although many Yankees fans would be unwilling to admit it, the time has come for Jeter, heading into his age-40 season, to accept a diminished role. When healthy, his bat is still viable in any order, but dropping him to the bottom of the lineup would be best for all parties. The concept of batting Jeter in the ninth spot may be taboo because of his legacy, but turning over the order with Jeter-Gardner-Choo could be a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
Yes, Choo's batting average versus left-handed pitching in 2013 (.215) is a cause for concern during bullpen maneuvers, especially batting behind a lefty in Gardner, but his ability to draw walks placed his OBP versus lefties at .345. He's going to do his damage against right-handed pitchers, but he is still viable in that spot of the order due to his eye at the plate.
As previously mentioned, Choo wouldn't be signed for his power or likely asked to bat in the middle of the order, but the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium could lead to a slight uptick in home run numbers over the life of his contract. During his time in Cleveland and Cincinnati, Choo averaged 20 home runs per 162 games. Much like a former Yankee free-agent outfield signing, Johnny Damon, Choo could tee off against right-handed pitchers and aim for the bleachers in right field at least 25 times per season.
What the Yankees would gain offensively by signing Choo can be slightly negated by his below-average defense in the outfield, but don't confuse the Yankees' current right field defense for anything excellent.
Although Ichiro Suzuki manned right field for most of 2013, he's not the defensive player of the past who garnered 10 career Gold Gloves and finished second in the American League in dWAR in 2004. In fact, since the start of 2012, Ichiro has been worth a grand total of 0.4 dWAR.
Choo, after masquerading as a center fielder for the 2013 Reds, will be moving back to right field if his contract lands him in New York. Over the last two seasons, Choo has been worth -3.7 dWAR but still worth a total of 7.7 WAR overall due to his outstanding offensive skill set.
To be clear, Choo would be a defensive downgrade from Suzuki, but the comparison won't be as stark as it would have been if we were still watching a young, dominant Ichiro in the outfield.
As illustrated, Shin-Soo Choo isn't a perfect player. He plays below-average defense, is on the wrong side of 30 years old and was a liability against left-handed pitching, and some of his career-best on-base percentage was inflated by getting hit by an unsustainable number of pitches (26). Choo is much closer to a 25-homer, .380 on-base player for New York than a dynamic outfielder who can mash 30-plus home runs, consistently crack a .400 on-base percentage and play adequate defense.
His really shouldn't mask New York's reality, though. If Brian Cashman can find room in the budget without going over the luxury tax while keeping flexibility for future seasons, Choo is a fit for the Yankees. Despite his flaws, he would help an 85-win team inch closer to the range of 88-89 wins and within striking distance of a postseason berth.
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