Shin-Soo Choo Rumors: Updating Every Suitor's Odds of Landing Star Outfielder
Shin-Soo Choo has been anxiously awaiting this offseason since he switched to agent Scott Boras in February 2010. This 31-year-old "Korean Michael Jordan" (h/t Jon Morosi, Fox Sports) can expect enormous long-term compensation as one of the top MLB veterans in the 2014 free-agent class.
Despite Boras' best efforts to stir league-wide interest, not every team is a logical landing spot. Even an influx of national television revenue probably won't compel the Tampa Bay Rays or Milwaukee Brewers to enter the bidding.
That doesn't mean we're completely ruling out those clubs or any others. Countless examples from the past four decades of free agency have taught us to never say never. Let's set the odds at five percent that Choo signs with a mystery team not featured here.
I approximated the likelihoods of him settling with the six most realistic suitors based on organizational depth, public comments and insider rumors.
Houston Astros: 3 Percent
CBS Sports insider Jon Heyman had the scoop last month about a potential match between baseball's lowest-spending team and a free agent seeking to become one of the highest-paid players at his position.
Heyman reasoned that the Houston Astros could spend substantially more money this coming season compared to 2013. Also, general manager Jeff Luhnow, who has "emphasized on-base percentage like almost no other baseball executive," would seek reinforcements to bolster a squad that finished dead last in the American League in that category.
For what it's worth, the Astros held trade discussions with the New York Mets about first baseman Ike Davis, according to Evan Drellich of The Houston Chronicle. Davis and Choo are comparable players in terms of plate discipline and the disparity in their platoon splits (although the latter obviously adds more overall value).
Houston's No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft is protected, so the club would only be sacrificing its second-rounder to acquire Choo. Nonetheless, it's difficult to imagine a rebuilding organization impeding itself from getting more cheap, young talent.
New York Mets: 4 Percent
On paper, Shin-Soo Choo makes so much sense for the New York Mets.
Coming off a handful of mediocre seasons, the Mets finally have ample spending money. The top of their lineup is a glaring weakness considering their 2013 leadoff men combined for a brutal .233/.293/.315 batting line.
However, it appears that the front office isn't willing to make the long-term commitment that Scott Boras will demand. General manager Sandy Alderson has reiterated that the Mets won't guarantee more than $100 million to any individual, reports Brian Costa of The Wall Street Journal. Boras expects to close a nine-figure deal, possibly one that surpasses Jayson Werth's seven-year, $126 million contract (h/t Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com).
As a team official explained to ESPN New York's Adam Rubin, the Mets are looking to address a handful of roster holes and prioritizing quantity over quality.
Cincinnati Reds: 10 Percent
In his only year with the Cincinnati Reds, Shin-Soo Choo set career highs in plate appearances, runs scored, on-base percentage and offensive WAR. "If he wants to play somewhere where he could succeed," writes Bleacher Report's Kyle Newport, "Cincinnati is one of his top options."
That's the understatement of the offseason so far. Cozy Great American Ball Park consistently plays toward the hitters' advantage, and with superstar slugger Joey Votto locked into a lifetime contract, Choo's hard-earned walks and painful hit by pitches would never go to waste.
Of course, you don't need to be reminded that Choo is a Scott Boras client, which means he's looking for the largest contract possible.
The Reds, meanwhile, have to be encouraged with what they saw from speedy center field prospect Billy Hamilton in September. The 23-year-old batted .368 and stole 13 bases in as many games. For at least the next three seasons, Hamilton will barely cost them the league's minimum salary.
Veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips has been on the trading block, according to Jon Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer. Bidding for Choo becomes much more realistic if the Reds can rid themselves of most of the $50 million remaining on Phillips' contract.
There isn't any progress to report on that front, however.
Seattle Mariners: 18 Percent
Contrary to previous reports (and common sense), Mark Feinsand of the Daily News tweets that the Seattle Mariners have "no interest" in Jacoby Ellsbury.
But it's clear that the club still covets an offensive-minded outfielder. The M's have been linked to potential trade candidates like Matt Kemp and Dexter Fowler, according to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.
Seattle fared horribly against left-handed pitching in 2013, which might explain why they've soured on the left-handed Ellsbury. Likewise, Shin-Soo Choo wouldn't help them improve in that area.
With that said, Seattle's first-round pick draft selection is protected, coming off a frustrating 71-91 campaign. Signing Choo would only require the sacrifice of a second-rounder, while trading for Kemp or Fowler would mean parting with substantially more talent, and possibly including an MLB-ready player. Meanwhile, money isn't nearly as precious for a team with so few future payroll obligations, per Baseball Prospectus.
The Mariners gave Choo his first professional contract in 2000, and he eventually made his major league debut with the franchise. Perhaps those details could steer him back to the Pacific Northwest.
Texas Rangers: 20 Percent
"Upgrading the offense, general manager Jon Daniels has said repeatedly," according to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "rates the No.1 priority for the Texas Rangers this offseason."
Courtesy of The Dallas Morning News, I've learned that Daniels plans to operate with payroll that is "a little below" the 2013 figure. To offset that, however, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that Texas has thought of trading Elvis Andrus or Ian Kinsler.
There ought to be considerable interest in the former. Contenders hoping to upgrade at shortstop aren't eager to give Jhonny Peralta "big-time money" considering his age and PED history (h/t Buster Olney, ESPN). The only shortstop on the trade market who's superior to Andrus is Troy Tulowitzki. Although the Colorado Rockies have discussed him with the St. Louis Cardinals, Troy Renck of The Denver Post reports that they "aren't looking to do anything."
As supply struggles to meet demand at such a premium position, the Rangers could realistically convince another team to absorb Andrus' entire contract, which guarantees nearly $15 million from 2015-2022. Ridding themselves of that would make Shin-Soo Choo very attainable.
Texas trusted left-handed-hitting outfielder David Murphy to bolster the lineup against right-handed pitching, but he posted an underwhelming .685 OPS with the platoon advantage last summer. Choo, by comparison, had a 1.011 OPS in such situations (.932 career OPS vs. RHP).
New York Yankees: 40 Percent
Jon Heyman reports that the New York Yankees met with Scott Boras and other top agents at the GM Meetings, most likely to get a better idea of each player's contract expectations.
Retirements of Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera have lightened the team's payroll heading into the offseason. A possible PED suspension for Alex Rodriguez would further trim it. As expected, the Yankees have—to varying degrees—shown interest in virtually every reputable outfielder on the free-agent market.
Shin-Soo Choo would represent a dramatic upgrade for New York in right field. A combination of mostly Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells batted .251/.296/.358 at the position in 2013, which was a far cry from the MLB average of .266/.329/.431.
Since the new Yankee Stadium was erected, left-handed sluggers like Curtis Granderson and Raul Ibanez have reaped huge benefits from the short porch in right field. Choo, however, doesn't pull the ball nearly as frequently as they do.
Nonetheless, the Yankees need to add offense, especially with the possibility that Robinson Cano doesn't re-sign. They're hoping Choo feels right at home in the Big Apple, whose metropolitan area boasts the second-largest Korean population in the United States (h/t Tyler Kepner, The New York Times).
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.