Everyone likes to get the guy they think no one else notices. Until of course, they realize everyone notices them. Thus is the reality around Cleveland Indians Right Fielder Shin-Soo Choo.
Over the course of the last year or so, Choo’s officially become the kind of player who’s so underrated, that he’s not. It’s hard to be underrated when everyone thinks you’re obviously good. Others have roll dodged to the side, opting instead to brand him as one of baseball’s best-kept secrets due to his being buried underneath a steaming pile of mediocrity in Cleveland, but I’m beginning to wonder whether that’s an appropriate label, either.
Perhaps ‘under appreciated’ might work. After all, this is a guy who has been one of baseball’s most productive outfielders for the better part of the last 4-5 years and has yet to see an All Star Game.
In all reality though, whether people think Choo has enough of a share of the spotlight with the general public is mostly irrelevant. While fans might not know who he is, MLB executives certainly do. So much so in fact, that his being made available by the Indians this offseason could spark a ton of interest from a wide variety of teams.
Without doubt, I’d expect the Boston Red Sox to be one of the first teams who kick tires on a potential deal. Choo’s skill set – particularly his impressive arm – should play well in Fenway Park and presents an opportunity for the Red Sox to fill multiple needs with one of the games true five-tool players.
Today, we’ll take a look at Choo, who he is, what it might take to get him and why he might be a unique fit for the Red Sox next year. Let’s jump right in.
Who he is:
Choo was signed out of high school in 2000 as an international free agent and highly touted pitching prospect. Choo topped out at 97mph on the radar gun and threw two secondary offerings that profiled as plus pitches. So smitten were the Mariners with Choo’s ability, that Pacific Rim Operations Director Todd Heid told Sports Illustrated that he was ‘the best amateur pitcher in the world’ at the time.
Choo enjoyed a measure of success as a minor league pitcher, but when concerns over the longevity of his arm were raised, the decision was made to permanently convert him to an outfielder full time. The Mariners made the change in April of 2001 while he was still in Single-A ball and the move paid immediate dividends, with Choo hitting an impressive .311 in his first 54 games playing as a position player in a professional environment.
In 2006, Choo was dealt to the Cleveland Indians as part of the Ben Broussard trade. Two days after the deal Choo made his Major League debut, hitting two home runs in his first game with the big club. By 2009, Choo had matured into one of the most valuable outfielders in the game, landing in or near the top 10 in a number of high-value offensive categories since then, including:
• 8th amongst MLB outfielders in wOBA (3rd among MLB RFers)
• 8th amongst MLB outfielders in wRC++ (3rd among MLB RFers)
• 13th amongst MLB outfielders in fWAR (5th among RFers)
• 3rd among MLB outfielders in OBP (1st among MLB RFers)
Choo also brings a solid defensive package to the table – sporting a plus arm, great glove and solid range – all of which should profile well in Fenway. Choo’s work ethic is certainly second to none – driven by a disciplined schedule he maintains throughout the year. This offseason he event spent time at boot camp, working out with the Korean Army.
What will it take to get him?
The good thing about the idea of acquiring Choo is that the cat is more or less out of the bag on what the Indians may be asking for. At the trade deadline, they were looking for a young, talented Major League Player with under three years of service time. I’d imagine in the offseason that price may go up a bit to a prospect or two. The really good news is that thanks to Choo being a Scott Boras client and only having one year left on his current deal – that the price won’t be that high relative to the other pieces on the market. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
What will be interesting to watch will be how teams approach the two major free agent outfielders (Nick Swisher and Josh Hamilton) and whether they double back around to Choo as being the more affordable option. There are teams with better systems and less complicated situations than the Red Sox who may be willing to go the extra mile. If the Arizona Diamondbacks make Justin Upton available, things could get really interesting. With the possibility of the Rangers, Red Sox, Angels, Yankees and Phillies all presumably looking for outfield help (possibly more), there is the potential for a feeding frenzy.
What makes him different from other good outfielders?
Choo’s entire similarity score list is a literal deluge of Red Sox players who have seen varying degrees of success in Boston in the past. Of similar batters through age 28, Troy O’Leary was #1 most similar to Choo, with Carl Everett coming in at #3 and Trot Nixon at #5. Jacoby Ellsbury was #8 on his all-time list. #1 was – ironically – Justin Upton who should also be available this offseason.
The guy who didn’t show up on that list that kind of surprised me was J.D. Drew. Drew hit for a career .278/.384/.489 with a .377 wOBA and 127 wRC++, which is right in line with Choo’s .289/.381/.464, .370 wOBA and 132 wRC++. Both guys hit left-handed, both went about their businesses quietly and both have great arms.
One of the more interesting criticisms of the Red Sox culture in the past few years has been the front office’s increasingly lax approach to finding players who would profile well specifically in Boston. If the Red Sox are planning on getting back to that, Choo would certainly be a huge step in that direction.
There are also compelling business reasons to acquire Choo . He’s the first Korean born position player to ever set foot on a Major League diamond and as such, is one of the most popular figures in his country. With the Red Sox enjoying a lot of success expanding their brand overseas in places like Japan, Korea could be an intriguing place to grab a little extra market share. This is certainly a situation where business want meets baseball need.
Reasons for caution
Trading for Choo is a risky proposition if for nothing more than the fact that he’d be under team control for one season. What makes the situation particularly complicated is that his agent is Scott Boras. What makes it doubly complicated is that Scott Boras is also Jacoby Ellsbury’s agent – who will also be entering his final year of team control.
Those conditions could lead to a situation where the Red Sox are stuck negotiating contracts for two of their starting outfielders with Boras sitting across the table… at the same time. Even if the Red Sox try to take an alternative route – like say they elect to trade for and extend Choo on arrival – how would that make Ellsbury feel? It’s not like he’s not going to get paid once he hits free agency, but one would have to wonder what Jacoby would think of a new outfielder being ushered into town with a shiny new contract his agent negotiated while he sits there with his future up in the air after years of contributions to the organization.
The other reason is mostly ridiculous, but given the grade school level acumen of the Boston sports media – could evolve into a nuisance. Last year, Choo got pegged for a DUI. With the deafening roar for ‘character guys’ to be re-inserted back into the equation at Fenway and the obvious connotations between the Red Sox clubhouse and booze in general – it’s only a matter of time before someone takes that story for a spin and never lets go. By all accounts – like this one in an April 2007 edition of Sports Illustrated – Choo’s a hard working, focused player and then some. But again – this is the Boston press who never let the facts or reality get in the way of an opportunity to fake outrage.
Mind you, none of the DUI stuff is a reason not to bring him here, but it’s something that’ll have to be considered. After an entire season of being swamped with unnamed sources and gossip pieces, the Red Sox may be extra weary of a player who comes with only one piece – but a significant piece nonetheless- of baggage.
At the end of the day Choo will be one of a number of appealing options for the Red Sox to consider. Should the Sox say ‘yes’ to Choo? What say you?