Friday, April 16, 2010

Resigning Shin-Soo Choo

Shin-Soo Choo is the best AL Central player the rest of baseball doesn't know about. If he played in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia, he'd be the sort of player the national media couldn't stop talking about. They'd brand him with all sorts of absurd labels, 'gamer,' 'a pros pro,' 'gritty,' whatever...

The truth is, the guy is just a stud.

Right field is a position where offense looms large. No position in baseball, save for first base, produced as much offense as right field, where the average player posted an OPS of .791.  The only two players with enough at-bats to qualify who posted better OPS numbers? J.D. Drew (.914) and Brad Hawpe (.903). That's it, that's the entire list. Drew led baseball with his mark, and Choo's .883 fell short by just 31 points. That's not an insignificant number,  but given that Drew is 34 and declining, and Choo just entering his prime at 27, I think we know how that trend is likely to go.

Bottom line, if Choo continues to hit the way he has the past two seasons, with minimal improvements, he will almost certainly be baseball's best right fielder in short order (yes, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward may have something to say about that...)

The Indians of course, realize this. GM Mark Shapiro wants to extend Choo, but is faced with the difficult task of negotiating with Scott Boras. The agent is notorious for advising his players t go through the arbitration process year-to-year to maximize their earnings potential instead of signing off on what are almost always team friendly extensions that give the player security through those years, and teams a sometimes sizable discount. Boras of course, is telling his client to avoid doing just that.

The Indians can afford to go year-to-year with Choo of course, but that's not an ideal situation necessarily. Choo is one of the Indians key building blocks, and arguably their best offensive player - and I don't mean that as a slight to Grady Sizemore who is an offensive force in his own right. But there simply aren't a whole lot of players who are going to give you above average defense, steal twenty bases, and have .900 OPS potential with the bat.

Fangraphs pegged Choo's 2009 season as being worth 22.9m on the open market. While there is little chance of Choo getting Mauer money on the free agent market on a long term deal, that doesn't mean he doesn't have considerable financial value.

So how much is Choo worth then? It can be a bit tough to peg, but I think he's likely worth something in the neighborhood of 16-20m over his three arbitration years. Typically teams then also want another year or two in team options. Given that those would be free agent years, Choo would likely get something much closer to true market value. Is it unreasonable to say he's worth 13-15m per year on the open market? Maybe a tad. It'll all depend on how he ages. If his legs hold up, sure he's probably worth that. If not, it could be a major mistake.

Therein lies the difficulty. That and that Boras guy.

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