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Is Shin-Soo Choo the Best of the Texas Rangers' Outfield Options?

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Is Shin-Soo Choo the Best of the Texas Rangers' Outfield Options?
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Last winter, the Texas Rangers were occupying headlines because of a star outfielder they didn't sign.

It sounds like it's going to be the other way around this winter. And judging from the latest word around the campfire, it sounds like the Rangers have their eye on the right guy.

The latest word is from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, who says that the Rangers prefer Cincinnati Reds castoff Shin-Soo Choo to Boston Red Sox castoff Jacoby Ellsbury. Heyman also notes, however, that the Rangers have talked to the Los Angeles Dodgers about trade-candidate outfielders Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford.

That sound you're hearing—you're not actually hearing it, of course, but whatever—is the sound of Rangers general manager Jon Daniels keeping his options open in regard to his outfield. But if we start a process of elimination to find the best fit for Texas' outfield among the names listed above, Choo is left as the last man standing.

We can get rolling with a free-agent-off (a "froff" for short) between Choo and Ellsbury, who has a couple skills with which to attract prospective buyers: a pretty good ability to get on base, elite center field defense and lots and lots of speed on the basepaths.

Setting aside what age could do to them, plenty of teams could use those latter two things. The Rangers, as it so happens, aren't one of them.

Elsa/Getty Images

The Rangers don't need Ellsbury's defense in center field because of who they have in house: Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry. They're both under club control for the foreseeable future, and both were among Ellsbury's peers defensively in 2013.

With an assist from FanGraphs, this is what we get when we compare their defensive metrics side by side:

Center Field Defense: Ellsbury vs. Martin and Gentry
Player Innings DRS UZR UZR/150
Ellsbury 1188.1 13 10.0 12.9
Martin 974.1 14 10.3 14.3
Gentry 444.2 8 9.4 28.4

FanGraphs

Ellsbury was a darn good defensive center fielder in 2013. But defense in center field was a calling card for both Martin and Gentry. The two of them combined were a lot better than one Ellsbury.

So paying for Ellsbury's glove? Nah, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the Rangers. 

Elsewhere, the speed Ellsbury can provide on the basepaths is decidedly in the realm of "a lot." He stole 52 bases in 56 attempts in 2013, the third 50-steal season of his career. 

The thing is, however, that the Rangers finished second in MLB in stolen bases in 2013. Martin, Gentry and Elvis Andrus all stole over 20 bases, with Andrus leading the way with 42.

The Rangers could be even speedier in 2014 even if they keep their roster intact. They'll get a full season of Alex Rios, for one. After stealing 42 bases in 2013, he's sure to be a lock for at least 20 in 2014. If the Rangers find a starting spot for Jurickson Profar, his speed will be added to the pile.

So paying for Ellsbury's speed? That doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the Rangers either. 

Now, Choo on the other hand...

Speed is one of the things Choo has to offer, as he's stolen at least 20 bases in four of the last five seasons. But it should be granted that he's no Ellsbury on the basepaths. Nor is he an Ellsbury on defense.

Choo was a disaster in center field in 2013, and the metrics don't like the way he played defense in right field in 2012. Further complicating matters is that he would presumably take David Murphy's place in left field if the Rangers were to sign him. Choo has never played left field on a regular basis, so the Rangers would have to figure on him being a defensive liability.

But while Choo can't hold a candle to Ellsbury in terms of speed or defense, he blows him out of the water at getting on base and hitting for power.

Choo owns a .389 career OBP that trumps Ellsbury's career OBP of .350. He's also taken to the leadoff spot like a natural, compiling a .389 OBP as a leadoff man with Cleveland in 2012 and a .423 OBP as a primary leadoff man in 2013 with Cincinnati.

Now, the Rangers aren't in desperate need of a new leadoff man. They got a .336 OBP out of their leadoff spot in 2013 that ranked as the 10th-best in MLB, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

That was mainly Ian Kinsler's doing, as he had a .355 OBP in 443 plate appearances batting out of the leadoff spot. I suppose that's both the good news and the bad news.

It's good news because, hey, a good leadoff OBP is a good leadoff OBP. It's bad news, however, because Kinsler can't exactly be relied on to do it again. He mustered only a .326 OBP out of the leadoff spot in 2012, and it's discouraging that his walk rates have been right at the league average over the last two seasons.

Choo, he of the 13.2 BB% over the last two seasons, would offer both an upgrade and stability at leadoff spot if he were to sign with the Rangers. Securing the leadoff spot for him would also help open the door for Kinsler to be dealt, as Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com has reported the Rangers are interested in doing.

As for the power upgrade Choo would provide, there's no question he brings more power to the table than Ellsbury. Ellsbury exploded in 2011, but over the last two seasons he owns just a .118 ISO (Isolated Power).

Choo's ISO over the last two seasons is .168, and it should be noted that he hit for just as much power away from Great American Ballpark in 2013. It's not just gap power either, as Choo's HR/FB rate has been in the double-digits every year since 2008.

That Choo's is left-handed power is especially relevant to the Rangers. Two of their best lefty power hitters from 2013 are free agents this winter: Murphy and A.J. Pierzynski. Since Choo hit for more power than either them in 2013, signing him would lessen the impact of the Rangers losing Murphy and/or Pierzynski to free agency.

Signing Choo wouldn't be cheap, but he's very likely to be cheaper than Ellsbury. Heyman noted that Boras is thinking more along the lines of Jayson Werth than Carl Crawford for Choo, meaning seven years and $126 million rather than the seven years and $142 million he has in mind for Ellsbury

Hence the reason it makes sense for Daniels to prefer Choo over Ellsbury. Why pay a premium for stuff you don't need when you can pay less of a premium for stuff you do need?

So if the Rangers are going to sign either of this winter's big-name outfielders, I have to think it would be Choo. And rightfully so if it happens.

But what about those Dodger-blue trade targets Heyman brought up? Do any of them make more sense for the Rangers than Choo?

Harry How/Getty Images

If it's strictly a question of talent that would suit the Rangers, you can count Crawford out. He'd be a solid defensive option in left field, but he's not an on-base machine, his legs are far from the weapon they used to be and his power is suspect. 

Crawford only had a .124 ISO in 2013, and he's posted a HR/FB rate under 10.0 in two of the last three seasons. And lest anyone mention Dodger Stadium's power-suppressing ways, Crawford had a higher ISO at home in 2013 than he did on the road. 

Ethier's bat would be a better option, but there are question marks surrounding his power as well. It's been trending downward over the last couple seasons, and, like Crawford, he's posted a HR/FB rate under 10.0 in two of the last three seasons.

Ethier's best days as a power hitter would seem to have passed him by. And since he isn't the on-base magnet Choo is and a questionable defender in his own right, the Rangers are still better off targeting Choo.

And thus does the process of elimination come down to Kemp, and we all know what his deal is. So do the Rangers, apparently.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Rangers have already kicked the tires on Kemp and were appropriately concerned about two things:

Per Baseball Prospectus' injury database, it was mainly hamstring injuries that cost Kemp 56 games in 2012. In 2013, it was a combination of hamstring, shoulder and ankle injuries that cost him 89 games. In a little over a year, he's had two surgeries on his left shoulder and one on his left ankle.

Given the state of Kemp's lower half, you have to wonder if he'll ever regain the speed that once allowed him to steal 40 bases. Given the state of his left shoulder, you have to wonder if he'll ever regain the power that allowed him to hit 116 home runs between 2009 and 2012.

In and of themselves, wonderings such as these are darn good excuses to be hesitant to strike a deal for Kemp. Then there's the likely circumstances of a deal for him.

If the Dodgers were to agree to eat a large chunk of Kemp's contract, they'd want some legit talent in return. It would be either that, or taking on all of the money owed to him. Either avenue would have the potential of leading to disaster.

Kemp, basically, is a player that nobody should want to touch with a 100-foot pole right now. Crawford and Ethier are both solid lefty hitters, but neither of them is the best lefty-hitting outfielder the Rangers can add to their lineup this winter.

Nor is Ellsbury, whose glove and speed are way more attractive than his bat.

Thus, Choo. Whether or not the Rangers are willing to wrangle up enough zeroes to satisfy Boras is up to them, but they certainly have reasons to make a spirited run at him.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

 

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