When you have a chance to make $140 million, it's a good idea to take it.
Before long, this may be the cautionary tale of Scott Boras and Shin-Soo Choo.
There was an interesting report out on Wednesday. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the New York Yankees' initial reaction to Robinson Cano's signing with the Seattle Mariners was to offer Choo a seven-year, $140 million contract.
Boras, Choo's agent, countered by asking for more money. One source said he wanted Jacoby Ellsbury money; i.e. something close to $153 million over seven years.
The result was the Yankees backing off and signing Carlos Beltran for three years and $45 million.
Maybe, yeah. Because the more you look at what Choo was expected to get and which suitors are left standing, the more rejecting $140 million looks like a risky play.
Choo was always expected to strike it rich following a 2013 performance that included a .423 OBP, but MLBTradeRumors.com only projected a six-year, $100 million contract. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an agent and a general manager who landed on $110 million over six years.
In light of these projections, the offer Boras rejected for his 31-year-old client was monstrous.
The Yankees probably aren't going to come calling again now that they have Beltran, Ellsbury and Brett Gardner for their outfield. They also have just about $180 million committed for 2014, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. They're dangerously close to the luxury-tax threshold.
If we take the Yankees out of the mix, the top suitors for Choo, based on a quick browse of his page at MLBTradeRumors.com, appear to be:
- Texas Rangers
- Houston Astros
- Seattle Mariners
- Detroit Tigers
- Boston Red Sox
- Cincinnati Reds
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Baltimore Orioles
Now, we begin a process of elimination, which starts with the three teams on the bottom.
Jon Heyman reported earlier this month that the Orioles hadn't "ruled out" Choo for left field. But they just dropped $15 million on Grant Balfour and traded for David Lough, thus spending a good chunk of the money they saved in the Jim Johnson trade and acquiring a solid corner outfielder.
The Orioles have over $45 million committed for 2014 and another $31 million projected to be added through arbitration. They only had an Opening Day payroll of around $92 million in 2013. With their primary need being pitching, splurging on Choo is unlikely.
The Diamondbacks are even easier to rule out. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that the D-Backs were determined to leave the winter meetings with either Choo or Mark Trumbo. They ended up trading for Trumbo and are already projected to surpass their 2013 payroll.
As for the Reds, general manager Walt Jocketty was honest to C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Walt on Choo - ‘i think we have to move on’— ctrent (@ctrent) December 11, 2013
There'd be some room for Choo in Cincinnati if the $50 million left on Brandon Phillips' contract was jettisoned, but good luck with that. That's a lot of money, and he's not very desirable.
The Red Sox are harder to rule out. They do have money, and they do have a need for an outfielder after losing Ellsbury to the Yankees. It's no wonder they started looking at Choo soon after Ellsbury signed, as Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reported.
However, replacing Ellsbury would ideally mean finding a center fielder. Choo played the part in 2013, but he has been a corner outfielder for the majority of his career. Plus, giving him a long-term contract would go against Ben Cherington's model.
So, we're down to the top four teams: the Tigers, Mariners, Astros and Rangers.
Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported in early December that Choo was a top target for Detroit, which had just cleared some money in the Prince Fielder trade and a bit more in the Doug Fister trade.
But with a platoon of Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis lined up for left field, the Tigers aren't desperate for Choo. Also, their 2014 payroll is projected at close to $160 million. Beyond that, Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera are extension candidates.
The Mariners are where we start to get into more realistic possibilities. With less than $70 million committed for 2014, a $2 billion TV deal coming their way and incentive to win now after signing Cano, they still look like a fit for Choo.
But here's this from Jon Morosi of Fox Sports:
Key development: Mariners now unlikely to sign Shin-Soo Choo as a result of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison acquisitions.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 11, 2013
This is a valid observation. Injury concerns aside, Hart and Morrison both pack high-upside bats. While there's still a fit for Choo in Seattle, the desperation to pay his asking price may no longer be there.
Thus, do we move on to Texas.
Jeff Passan highlighted the Astros as a possibility for Choo, and rightfully so. They could certainly use his talent, and they don't even have $30 million committed for 2014. They have no long-term contracts on their books and are currently in the market for a more lucrative TV arrangement.
However, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle brought up some good points. One is that the Astros have already accounted for most of the $30 million that team owner Jim Crane said was going to be added this winter. Another is that the Astros value the pick they'd have to give up to sign Choo, which is understandable given that they're still rebuilding.
I wouldn't count the Astros out altogether, but they may need some motivation to go as high as $140 million. A bidding war with their neighbors, for example, might do the trick.
And it could come to that. The Rangers have been linked to Choo all winter, and there's still a fit for him even after adding Fielder and Michael Choice. With a TV deal worth $80 million per year and their 2014 payroll currently projected at around $115 million, the Rangers could make something work.
But there's this from Passan to consider:
Rangers doing significant background work on Masahiro Tanaka. Have room for one significant expenditure. May slow movement on Shin-Soo Choo.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 18, 2013
This is a topic I tackled in a separate article earlier on Wednesday. What should worry Choo is that Masahiro Tanaka is likely going to come cheaper than $140 million. Also, the Rangers have a bigger need for a No. 3 starter than they do for a new leadoff man.
The short version is that, yeah, it appears that playing hardball with the Yankees could come back to bite Boras. Their $140 million offer was not only a huge increase over Choo's perceived market value, but also an offer that came together via circumstances that were just right.
Will Shin-Soo Choo end up signing for over, under or exactly $140 million?
The Yankees were in need of a corner outfielder with a good bat. This need was intensified by the amount of offense lost when Cano bolted for Seattle. He also took some star power with him. Nearby, meanwhile, was a pile of money that had been reserved for Cano.
Basically, the Yankees had all the reasons they needed to blow Boras' socks off. They surely figured their $140 million offer would do the trick.
Among the suitors we discussed are a handful that could afford a $140 million contract for Choo. The Red Sox, Mariners, Astros and Rangers fit the bill the best. But for these suitors, the same sort of desperation that formed the Yankees' offer isn't foreseeable.
The good news is that there's a lot of winter left. Unexpected things tend to happen, as Boras knows from experience when Victor Martinez's injury paved the way for the Fielder signing two winters ago. Here's guessing he doesn't mind waiting.
But maybe—just maybe—this will be the winter we finally get to tell him we told him so.
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