Area of Need: Left Fielder & High OBP
Status: Free Agent
Availability: 4 – 5 years/$70 – $90 m
If Scott Boras is to be believed – and come on, when has Scott Boras ever lied to you? – he will be seeking north of $100 m for Korean on-base sensation Shin-Soo Choo. I like to think that I was on the Choo bandwagon (the Choo Train, if you will) relatively early on his career. For a time, Choo was one of the better unheralded players in baseball with a run from 2008 – 2010 where he was essentially a .300/.400/.500 offensive force in Cleveland. Choo had a nice run in Cleveland before landing with Ohio’s other club – the Reds – in an offseason trade. The 31 year old had his second best season to date with a .283/.423/.462 line while batting leadoff for the Reds.
Choo is the proud owner of a career .389 OBP which is just short of ridiculous for someone with good, but not great power. His .423 OBP form 2013 is likely unrepeatable. His previous high was .401 back in 2010 and the 2013 on-base percentage was helped by a head-turning 26 hit by pitches. Even if he returns to career norms, nobody is going to scoff at the .380 OBP he is likely to bring. Defensively, Choo manned centerfield this past season for the Reds and did so well. The Orioles would certainly use him in leftfield where he is probably more suite to play anyway. Choo has a good arm and decent range.
The downside to Choo is twofold. While I have my doubts that he gets the $100 m contract that Boras claims he is seeking, that does not change the fact that he won’t come cheap. $15m+ for four to six years for a player that will turn 32 next July is a steep price to pay. It is difficult to see how the Orioles could afford that contract and an extension for either Chris Davis or Matt Wieters.
Perhaps the bigger negative is that Shin-Soo struggles mightily versus left-handed pitching. For his career he has a .932 OPS versus RHP compared to a .680 OPS versus LHP. Those splits have gotten worse in recent years as well. In 2013 Choo had a platoon split of 1.011/.612 with a dismal .50 ISO versus southpaws. He is essentially a platoon player that partially masks that fact by how well he handles RHP. Choo obviously brings a ton to the table but it is difficult to argue that the Orioles can afford that sort of commitment on an aging player who cannot hit left-handed pitching.
Choo is not the perfect fit that I initially thought he was due to his platoon splits and reported contract demands. There is no arguing that he would address some of the team’s biggest needs (OBP) but give his flaws, I think there is little chance of seeing him in orange and black in 2014.
Outlook: Unlikely – Choo’s price tag will be high and while his on base capabilities would be a huge boost to the Orioles lineup, he is not without flaws. In all probability, Choo will not be the player that the O’s loosen the purse strings to get.