Shin-Soo Choo could be the best leadoff hitter in the AL next season.
Don't kid yourselves, Rangers fans: I'm willing to bet most of you would love to have Choo. I'll go even further and say I bet most of you would even pay more for him than you might say you are comfortable with.
But that's okay. It's normal. I certainly fall under that description myself. At this point in the offseason, things are getting a bit tense. Every Ranger fan wants to see that marquee signing—that big-time name, besides Prince Fielder, putting on the Rangers home white uniform on March 31, 2014.
Why is that? Well the market of impact players that the Rangers would seriously pursue is down to three: Choo, Nelson Cruz and Masahiro Tanaka, assuming he is posted.
Jon Morosi of Fox Sports tweeted earlier today that MLB teams and officials still have not been told if Tanaka will be posted.
MLB and MLB club officials have not been told whether Masahiro Tanaka will be posted, sources say. The wait goes on. And on. @FOXSports1— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 18, 2013
So really, the Rangers' market is down to Choo and Cruz. Besides, I can't see the Rangers beating out the Yankees and Dodgers in a bidding war for a 25-year-old pitcher who just might be entering his prime years.
The more time passes, the more it's becoming clear that Choo is the Rangers' guy. General manager Jon Daniels' waiting game will no doubt continue for at least a couple more weeks. But Choo should eventually emerge as the obvious choice for the Rangers to spend their remaining money on.
Let's ask: Is Leonys Martin truly ready to lead off for this club every day in 2014?
Look at his 2013 leadoff numbers. According to Baseball-Reference, Martin led off for the Rangers in 31 games last season. In 130 plate appearances, he hit .238 and posted an OBP of just .301. His strikeout rate in the leadoff spot was 23 percent, while his walk rate was a mere 5.3 percent.
Granted, he is bound to improve in 2014. His aggressive and open uppercut swing easily explains his relatively high strikeout rate in that sample size.
But can you really see him leading off every day for a contending club next season?
His bunting skills are solid, but not on the level of those of Elvis Andrus, which is why Elvis is hitting second in this lineup.
Here is a more important stat: In 2013 the Rangers were 27-2 when leading at the start of the second inning, home or away, per Baseball-Reference. Even if they were up just 1-0 after the first inning, the Rangers were nearly perfect on the season.
Much of that is due to their starting pitching and a bullpen that was stellar for most of last season.
Conversely, Baseball-Reference indicates that the Rangers were just 48-45 when the score was tied at the end of the first. Far more often than not, the Rangers were tied with the opposition after the first inning. The goal then, obviously, is to gain the lead in the first inning more often in 2014.
After all of that context, it should be abundantly clear that Martin leading off every day won't get that done.
Enter Choo and his .423 OBP from last season, per Baseball-Reference.
Right now I view a Choo as a better version of Ian Kinsler, who not only has an infinitely higher career OBP, but who also isn't in a clear decline.
I don't need to hash out all of Choo's peripheral stats for you. You've seen them countless times over the last few weeks.
The two most important numbers you need to keep in mind going forward are: One, the Rangers were basically a .500 team when tied going into the second inning, while they were 27-2 when leading after the first. Two: .423 OBP.
Choo could possibly be the best leadoff hitter in the AL if he signed with the Rangers.
Let's say his OBP is a tick or two above or below .400 next season. Per FanGraphs, when a leadoff hitter gets on base in any one of the six ways he can—base hit, walk, hit by pitch, dropped strike three, catcher's interference or error—his team has a 37.8 percent chance of scoring at least one run.
Actually, keep that number in mind as well.
That percentage stays the same no matter how great the leadoff hitter's OBP is. But that chance comes into play far more often for a guy like Choo compared to Martin.
Choo has Martin beaten easily in all of those categories. His average was 25 points higher than Martin's. Choo drew 84 more walks. He was hit by a pitch 18 more times than Martin. Choo got on base at a far better rate than Martin in each of those six ways.
Perhaps these numbers might entice some skeptical Ranger fans a little more. This club needs Choo at the top of its order to compete for a World Series.
Now, to the overarching questions: How much? How many years?
If I'm JD, I'm concerned with years over average annual value. Scott Boras wants seven years. The Rangers are willing to go five according to Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi on Twitter.
The Rangers appear comfortable going to five years on Shin-Soo Choo. Scott Boras wants seven. We will see if they settle in the middle.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 12, 2013
Here's my solution: Offer six guaranteed years with a higher AAV and an option for a seventh year based on incentives. If I were JD, I'd offer six years and $115 million with an option to make it seven and 130.
There is simply no way around it: The Rangers will have to spend big money to put Choo in their leadoff spot. Another question: Are three or four years of Nelson Cruz, now at 33, better than six or seven years of 31-year-old Choo, an all-around much better player?
To me, that really is a no-brainer.
Of course, I strongly believe JD should continue waiting this thing out. I believe he can squeeze Boras into that six/115 deal, which I would do.
That is insane money that many of you likely don't want to pay to a 31-year-old.
But just remember: 27-2 vs. 48-45, 37.8 percent and .423. If you keep those numbers fresh in the noggin, I believe you will eventually be convinced that Choo is the guy this club needs.