Is Shin-Soo Choo Bigger Texas Rangers Gain or Cincinnati Reds Loss?
When the Cincinnati Reds and the Texas Rangers meet on Monday, all eyes will be on outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.
Several teams were in on the free agent. The Reds had interest in bringing him back, but his price tag was too steep. Eventually, via CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Choo signed a seven-year deal worth $130 million with the Rangers.
The 31-year-old's signing shook the baseball world and created a few questions. Is Cincinnati still a legitimate contender without Choo? Is Texas now the team to beat in the American League?
Those questions won't be answered when the two squads meet in Arizona on Monday, but the spring training game will give fans a glimpse of how both sides are adjusting to their new looks.
Let's take a look at which side was impacted the most by Choo leaving Cincinnati for Texas in the offseason.
*All stats are via MLB.com
Shin-Soo Choo's Performance with Cincinnati Reds
The numbers Shin-Soo Choo put up in 2013 speak for themselves.
He put up a slash line of .285/.423/.462, and his on-base percentage trailed only then-teammate Joey Votto in the NL. The leadoff man hit 21 home runs, 34 doubles and two triples while playing half of his games in the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. He also drew 112 walks and led the team with 20 stolen bases.
Reds fans were hoping that Choo would be able to get on base at the top of the lineup. Oddly enough, he was hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance of the season. That turned out to be a sign, as he set a franchise record by getting plunked 26 times last season.
Choo did a little bit of everything on offense for Cincinnati. There was, however, one thing that he couldn't do. The left-handed hitter had a rough time hitting southpaws.
The former Reds outfielder hit .215 against left-handers, which is much lower than his .317 average against right-handers. He had only eight extra-base hits and eight RBI against southpaws last year, and he did not hit a home run against a left-hander until his final at-bat in a Cincinnati uniform in the National League Wild Card game.
Choo's struggles to get hits against left-handers were tough to handle, but he still found a way to get on base. Against southpaws, he posted a .347 on-base percentage.
With Choo and Votto reaching base at an incredible rate, the Reds finished second in the NL in OBP. Getting those two players on base helped both second baseman Brandon Phillips and right fielder Jay Bruce top 100 RBI for the first time in their careers.
Choo made the most of his time at Great American Ball Park, and his performance earned him a huge contract this winter.
Impact on Cincinnati Reds
On the surface, losing Shin-Soo Choo should hurt Cincinnati's offense. However, is it a devastating loss for the Reds?
It will be tough for the team to replace a leadoff hitter who reached base more than 42 percent of the time. The Reds are hoping that rookie Billy Hamilton can at least put up respectable numbers in his first full season in the majors, but they don't expect him to be able to put up a .400 OBP.
The center fielder got off to a slow start at Triple-A last season, but he made enough adjustments to put up a slash line of .256/.308/.343. He has a career slash line of .280/.350/.343 in five seasons in the minors.
Hamilton may not get on base as much as Choo, but his speed is going to put pressure on opposing pitchers. He stole 395 bases in the minors and stole 13 bases after being called up in September. His speed can get inside of a pitcher's head and possibly lead to mistake pitches to the heart of the order.
Early on, Hamilton hasn't had much trouble adjusting to the majors. He hit .368/.429/.474 in his first month in the majors last year, and he is hitting .313/.450/.375 during spring training in 2014.
The speedster has six stolen bases and four walks this spring, and he has yet to get caught stealing or strikeout. That's pretty impressive.
Speed will be one area that Hamilton will be an upgrade over Choo, and his defense in center will be the other. Choo moved from right field to center before last season and had a rough time throughout the year. Although he has a terrific arm, he lacked range in the outfield. Hamilton will be able to cover a lot more ground, which will help a great pitching staff.
Hamilton probably won't have the offensive numbers that Choo put up last year, but the youngster has a lot of potential. Even with a rookie leading off, Cincinnati's roster is talented enough to get back to the postseason.
With the speedster waiting for a chance to show what he can do, the Reds were able to save some money by letting Choo walk.
Cincinnati's payroll is above $100 million again, so there wasn't much room for the club to make a serious run at Choo. The lack of money forced the team to let Choo and pitcher Bronson Arroyo leave this offseason. However, letting those players walk freed up some money for the future.
Had the Reds re-signed Choo, it is unlikely that they would have been able to sign pitcher Homer Bailey to a six-year, $105 million deal. Even after handing out a big contract to Bailey, the team still has room to look at locking up pitchers Johnny Cueto and/or Mat Latos to a long-term deal.
Young pitching is more valuable than an aging outfielder. The Reds made a decision to put their money into pitching, and they hope they are rewarded with a big season out of Hamilton.
Letting Choo walk may hurt the Reds for a year or two, but the club should get the better of this deal in the future.
Impact on Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers underwent a pretty big makeover this offseason, and they also took on a lot of money. Anything less than a trip to the postseason—or possibly World Series—will be a disappointment.
Signing Shin-Soo Choo was a big move, but it wasn't even the biggest acquisition of the offseason for Texas. In November, the Rangers traded infielder Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for first baseman Prince Fielder.
Both Fielder and Choo are under contract for the next seven seasons, and the Rangers will have to pay each star player around $130 million throughout the remainder of their contracts.
Texas added a lot of talent from the left side of the plate. In 2013, Fielder posted numbers that ranked among the worst of his career. Choo, on the other hand, put up some of the best numbers of his career.
Not many teams will send out a better lineup than the Rangers. Here's a look at a projected starting nine:
|LF Shin-Soo Choo||L|
|SS Elvis Andrus||R|
|1B Prince Fielder||L|
|3B Adrian Beltre||R|
|RF Alex Rios||R|
|DH Mitch Moreland||L|
|C Geovany Soto||R|
|CF Leonys Martin||L|
|2B Jurickson Profar||S|
That's a pretty deep lineup. If players can live up to their potential in 2014, the Rangers have the potential to represent the American League in the World Series this year.
Without Choo and Fielder, the Rangers were already a pretty strong offense. They ranked seventh in the majors in average, 10th in on-base percentage, seventh in slugging and eighth in runs scored in 2013. Those numbers will only go up with both veterans being able to hit for power and get on base.
Going from the NL to the AL can be tough, but Choo has played the majority of his career in the AL. He spent the first nine years of his career playing in the AL, including two seasons in the AL West with the Seattle Mariners. The veteran has a career slash line of .289/.383/.465 in the American League.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, Choo hasn't had a ton of success in Arlington. He has hit .239/.393/.388 with two home runs in 22 games in his new stadium. It's a fairly small sample size, especially considering he usually only made one trip a year to Texas with the Cleveland Indians and the Reds.
Had the Rangers not signed Choo, they still would've had a strong lineup. Pairing Fielder and Beltre together gives the team one of the best duos in the majors. With Choo leading off and Andrus hitting second, the middle of the lineup will have plenty of chances to drive in runs.
Verdict: Rangers Benefit More Than Reds Lose
After looking at both sides of the argument, it appears that the Texas Rangers gained more than the Cincinnati Reds lost by adding Shin-Soo Choo.
One reason this signing impacts the Rangers more than the Reds is it's not clear as to how much it will affect Cincinnati.
Texas is getting an elite offensive weapon. That much is clear. Nobody knows how Billy Hamilton is going to do, so the Reds could look back at this move at the end of the season and be thrilled that they swapped Choo for Hamilton.
For an even better look at the argument, think about it in terms of both team's postseason chances.
The Rangers faded in September and were eliminated from postseason contention after a one-game playoff with the Tampa Bay Rays despite winning 91 games. Does Texas have a good chance of getting to the playoffs in 2014? If they don't make the playoffs this season, it would be a huge shock.
Cincinnati finished the 2013 season with 90 wins and made the playoffs despite finishing in third place in the NL Central. The Pittsburgh Pirates lost a lot of key players this offseason, so the Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals are in position to make the division a two-team race. Even if it doesn't win the NL Central, Cincinnati should be good enough to be a wild card.
Texas will see the benefits from this signing immediately, but Cincinnati may have to wait a year or two to benefit. Hamilton will be able to use the 2014 season as a learning experience, and the Reds can use the money that it saved by not re-signing Choo on other players.
Losing an on-base machine is tough, but the Rangers are bigger winners than the Reds are losers for the 2014 season. This deal has the potential to be a win-win signing for both teams, although it will be more apparent in Texas.