Shin-Soo Choo an Ideal Free-Agent Acquisition for New York Mets

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterNovember 8, 2013

Big-ticket signings in free agency aren't always motivated by what a team's roster needs. Sometimes—heck, maybe even most of the time—it's the star power that a team wants.

But big free-agent signings certainly can be a case of a square peg going in a square hole. The New York Mets will be demonstrating that principle if they sign veteran outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.

I didn't catch anybody off-guard there, did I? No? I thought not. Choo's long been whispered as a possible target for the Mets. Please accept my apologies for just now getting around to adding my own hushed voice to the mix.

It is something that has to be talked about, however, as a potential partnership between Choo and the Mets is now more than just talk radio fodder. Here's Mike Puma of the New York Post:

Exactly how "interested" is Mets general manager Sandy Alderson? You'd have to ask him. Maybe he's interested in Choo like he's interested in trading Ike Davis for Mike Trout or in building a house under the sea, which is to say not realistically interested in the slightest.

But while we can't read Alderson's mind, we can nod our heads and quietly approve of the notion that Choo is at least on his radar. Choo darn well should be on Alderson's radar, as he's a player the Mets could use more than any of his other potential suitors.

Choo is, after all, the one thing the Mets desperately need more than most teams: a leadoff hitter.

Here's the slash line Mets leadoff men posted in 2013: .233/.293/.315. That's all bad, but it's the middle part that's the most distressing. A leadoff man's No. 1 job is to get on base, and the players the Mets used didn't get the job done.

Per, it was a group effort:

Mets Leadoff Hitters in 2013
Eric Young90417.319
Jordany Valdespin1667.254
Ruben Tejada1567.258
Collin Cowgill943.209
Mike Baxter839.256
Omar Quintanilla737.378
Daniel Murphy730.333
Juan Lagares630.233
Justin Turner316.188
Kirk Nieuwenhuis13.000

Most of Eric Young Jr.'s career plate appearances have come batting leadoff, so it's no surprise he got the bulk of the starts and the bulk of the plate appearances in the leadoff spot. But he didn't do so well, and seven of the other nine guys the Mets tried batting leadoff posted OBPs under .300. Omar Quintanilla was pretty good, but in a small sample size.

Now, we didn't really need to take that close of a look at the individual hitters the Mets used in the leadoff position. But because I like the idea of Choo on the Mets, I obviously need to make him look good. And after seeing those numbers up close, he ought to look especially good when I relay the following.

Choo had a .423 on-base percentage in 2013, good for fourth among all qualified hitters. He was even better out of the leadoff spot with a .432 OBP that was part of a .294/.432/.481 slash line.

Let's just say that Choo ranked more highly among fellow everyday leadoff men than Mets leadoff men ranked among all MLB teams. While we're saying it, we can go ahead and ponder it in visual form:

MLB Leadoff Ranks in 2013

Like Jose Altuve standing next to Nate Freiman, this is a hilarious juxtaposition.

There are always counterarguments with free agents. Matt Meyers of put a few good ones on the table in early October. He wrote that the Mets need to be wary of paying Choo based on what he did in 2013, he's lousy at hitting left-handers, he just spent a season at a great hitter's park and that he's more likely to get worse rather than better as he ages. He's already 31, after all.

But for these counterarguments, there are counterarguments.

Choo's brilliance out of the leadoff spot is not a one-year thing. He hit leadoff for the bulk of 2012 with the Cleveland Indians as well, posting an excellent .310/.389/.493 slash line. Overall, he's logged more plate appearances in the No. 1 spot over the past two years than all but five other players and has the highest OBP of anybody with at least 300 leadoff plate appearances.

And while Choo did indeed just spend a season at a notorious hitters' park in Great American Ballpark as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, he hit for just as much power on the road as he did at home. According to FanGraphs, he had a .180 ISO at home and a .175 ISO on the road.

Besides, Choo's main selling point is the plate discipline that's had a huge hand in him becoming an on-base machine. That's not something that can be impacted by a ballpark.

Nor is it something that's bound to deteriorate with age. 

According to FanGraphs, Choo has swung at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone over the past two seasons than all but six other qualified hitters. Bill Petti of FanGraphs did some research recently that found that O-Swing% is something that doesn't automatically decline with age, so the odds are good that Choo's trademark plate discipline will be just fine over the life of a multi-year deal.

That leaves Choo's struggles against left-handers, which...OK, yeah. He has a .680 career OPS against southpaws and did even worse than that (.612) in 2013. There's no arguing around that one.

But that's one legit knock on what Choo would bring to the Mets from an offensive standpoint. Everything else is solid, and the "everything else" in this case consists of some pretty important stuff.

Of course, Choo's not just a good fit for the Mets because of his bat.

With Juan Lagares and his outstanding glove and arm stationed in center field, the Mets wouldn't need Choo to make a mockery of himself in center field again like he did in 2013. He could move back to right field, where the Mets currently have Andrew Brown listed as their starter.

Would Choo be a defensive upgrade? Not necessarily, no. According to the metrics, he did a lot more harm than good when he last played right field in 2012. But it is a position that would preserve his legs a lot better than center field, and the Mets can get away with having a liability in right field with lots of range in left (Young) and center (Lagares).

So the bat's good, and the glove will do just fine. How about the money?

According to Puma, it might not actually be that bad:

Anthony DiComo of recently shrugged off the notion of the Mets signing Choo based on the possibility of him demanding a $100 million contract. Jon Heyman of even projected a $120 million deal for him, probably because he was the one who reported that Scott Boras himself suggested $100 million was too conservative.

But $90 million? That's $18 million per year over five years or $15 million over six. In light of the $35-45 million offseason spending budget floated by Joel Sherman of the New York Post a while back, either figure is conceivably doable. 

Frankly, I don't know how much I believe that Boras is actually peddling Choo as a $90 million player. But I also don't think it's out of the question that Choo's contract negotiations will end up in that arena either way thanks to his ties to draft-pick compensation. We saw draft-pick compensation hurt the markets for some free agents last winter. Maybe that will happen with Choo this winter.

If it comes to that, the Mets will have an advantage they didn't have last year: a protected draft pick. Their No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft isn't going anywhere no matter who they sign.

A deal is a long way off from happening. Because, again, we don't know how "interested" Alderson is in Choo, and it's absolutely possible that his price will escalate too high for Alderson's liking anyway.

But there's no question whatsoever that Choo is a player the Mets need, and it sounds like he might actually be in their price range.

Them's the notes. We shall see if music is made.


Note: Stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted.


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