When the free-agent market opened up on November 5th, Shin-Soo Choo was one of the biggest names and best players available. Yet, the idea giving the 31 year-old Choo a five or six year deal with an annual value between 17 and 22 million dollars, was expected to keep Choo on the market for a while. As we re-evaluate things on December 11th, day three of the MLB winter meetings, it appears just that has happened.
Choo provides versatility because not only can he hit for power (21 homeruns in 2013) and average (career .288 hitter), but he also has played both right-field, in his time with the Indians, and center-field, last season with the Reds. Agent Scott Boras will likely market Choo as a center-fielder, because it is much harder to find an above-average center-fielder than a corner outfielder.
Regardless of what position he plays, Choo brings a valuable mix of versatility and production, so why does his market appear to be evaporating?
Not only have teams shied away from his asking price, but many of the teams who could have afforded to give Choo that type of deal, have spent their money elsewhere, or acquired other players.
- The Yankees have signed Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, and appear to be set on keeping Brett Gardner in the fold.
- The Rangers have an opening in left-field, but signing Choo would either require Choo to move to left, or Leonys Martin moving form center to left. Still, there is a reported interest, but the Rangers are hesitant of giving Choo over 100 million, and seem more likely to re-sign Nelson Cruz.
- The Tigers are still an option, but after signing Rajai Davis to a two-year deal yesterday morning, Fox’s Jon Morosi tweeted that they are less of an option. That doesn’t mean that they are entirely out of the Choo sweepstakes, but the certainly aren’t going to sign him unless his price drops near $100 million.
- The Diamondbacks push to add a big-time outfielder ended yesterday as they acquired Angles slugger Mark Trumbo, and reportedly will play him in left-field.
- In addition, his former team, the Cincinnati Reds, only ever really viewed him as a one year option, with base-stealing phenom Billy Hamilton expected to be ready to play everyday at the big league level next season. Not to mention Hamilton plays center–the position Choo occupied for the Reds. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick wrote yesterday, “The Reds would have to see Choo’s price drop considerably to have a reasonable shot at bringing him back.” And with Jay Bruce already in right-field, a return to the Reds is all-but impossible.
So who is still an option? A few teams, but none of them NEED Choo.
- Last Friday, Jason A. Churchill of 1090 the Fan in Seattle, tweeted that Choo was “very much on the Mariners radar”. Choo could be a fit for the Mariners, who after blowing the Yankees away with Robinson Cano’s $240 million deal, are reportedly looking to add another big name around him. The problem? After signing Cano, the Mariners now have second-baseman Dustin Ackley, as a very valuable trade piece. So they could just decide that they need to make another statement, and bid against themselves (like they did in the Cano deal), and sign Choo to a six-year deal in the market of $125 million. Or they could wait the market out and see if Choo’s price drops considerably as other options disappear. If his price doesn’t drop, then they could use Ackley in a package to go get a guy like Matt Kemp. Frankly, landing Kemp sounds like a better idea, because both are going to be expensive, but Kemp is a bigger name (which will bring more fans in) and provides support for Cano in the lineup. Choo would leadoff, leaving Cano without another elite hitter in the middle of the lineup.
- The Baltimore Orioles haven’t “ruled out” Choo, CBS Sports Jon Heyman tweeted yesterday. But, they also view Nelson Cruz as an option, according to Heyman. Heyman also cautioned that they aren’t a team who is an elite spender. The Orioles are also more in the market for a left-fielder with Adam Jones in centerfield and Nick Markakis in center, so perhaps bringing back a guy like Michael Morse would make more sense for them.
- Other teams like the San Francisco Giants technically could be a fit for Choo, but his price puts him out of the Giants reach.
So where do the Phillies come in? All off-season the idea of improving in center-field has been discussed. Personally, I think that Ben Revere is the a really good fit for the Phillies in centerfield for the Phillies. He’s only 25 years-old, under team control through 2016, and hit .305 with stole 22 bases in only 88 games last season. He isn’t a great fielder, but assuming that injuries don’t limit him in 2014, he is the prototypical leadoff hitter that can (hopefully) set the table for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard.
All that said, there isn’t much denying that Choo would bring more individual production, mainly power, than Revere. He also would be a fielding improvement over Revere, and be a suitable leadoff hitter. Still, he would likely be at least a $20 million salary increase over Revere. Choo might make more sense than Revere, but does he make THAT much more sense?
That question isn’t one for me to answer, because my answer would be a simple no. That doesn’t mean Ruben Amaro and the Phillies feel that same way.
When speaking to reporters at the MLB winter meetings yesterday, Ruben Amaro had this to say on his plans for the rest of the Phillies off-season.
Ruben Amaro Jr: “We’re built to win.I like our lineup. I’d like to add some pitching to it.” I just don’t see it, there’s tons of IF’s.
— Brian Startare (@brianstartare) December 10, 2013
He would like to add pitching. The Phillies don’t NEED to add starting pitching, as they have Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (who they paid four million a year to start) Kyle Kendrick, and Jonathan Pettibone. Could they improve on Pettibone, or trade Kendrick to make room for another signing? Sure. But they really don’t need to.
Ruben Amaro seems to like Brad Lincoln in the bullpen, while the Phillies cross their fingers that Mike Adams returns to his old form in 2014. Barring a Jonathan Papelbon trade and/or signing free-agent setup-man/closer Joaquin Benoit, the bullpen appears to be set.
The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Gelb took a look at the Phillies committed money so far for 2014, as Ruben Amaro said that the Phillies payroll likely won’t increase past the approximately $165 million that it was it at last year.
The Phillies have committed about $140 million to 12 players under contract. Their four arbitration players should add another $12 million in salary, although John Mayberry Jr. is a trade candidate. The rest of the roster could be filled by players making near the league minimum of $500,000.
That leaves approximately $10 to $15 million in 2014 salary to be spent on improving the starting rotation.
Amaro did leave the door open for a slight payroll increase.
“I think we have some flexibility to add. A lot of it depends on what makes sense for us.”
Even if the Phillies do end up with a little flexibility, you are talking about a team that has a payroll around $172 million. So let’s say that Phillies have $12 left after signing arbitration-eligible players to deals. That won’t be enough to get Choo, even if his price drops.
So signing Choo would take one of two things. Either the Phillies move Kyle Kendrick and/or John Mayberry, or the ownership decides that with a Television deal boost on the way, that they can give Amaro $180 million to work with, if he can lure Choo to Philadelphia.
Even then, Choo would have to accept a deal like five-years $100 million to come to the Phillies. His price dropping that much is certainly possible, given the way the market is developing. Still, that is a big guarantee.
I don’t care if the perception around the the league is that contracts look ridiculous because television money is inflating the price of all players. $100 million might not mean what it once did, but it is still a good amount of money to guarantee to one player on the wrong side of 30. Then again, I’m not the general manager, and if this option is open, don’t be surprised if Ruben Amaro goes after it. Remember he likes to make the big splash moves.