This goes without saying at this point, but Shin-Soo Choo seems destined to don another team’s uniform in the near future. It might be later this winter. It might be during next season. It surely will be the case for Opening Day 2014.
Agent Scott Boras continues to add more writing to the wall.
Last offseason, when the idea of a contract extension seemed remotely possible, Boras called Cleveland a “developmental team” and had Choo sign a one-year deal through arbitration. This winter, Boras fired a shot at Indians ownership during the GM Meetings. The latest development is that Choo (so proud of being a Korean big leaguer) will not take part in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
It has become crystal clear that Choo’s focus is on the season ahead, which will be a contract year before he can head into free agency. Unless Choo pulls a Carlos Gonzalez and negotiates an extension with Cleveland on his own — an extremely unlikely scenario — it’s a safe bet he will hit the open market next winter.
So what should the Indians do here?
To me, it depends on how the team view’s its level of competitiveness in 2013. If the front office feels the 94-loss showing in 2012 was a fluke, and a quick turnaround with a young core is possible in the American League Central, then by all means the team should keep Choo and go for it.
If the club fizzles in the first half, well, the Tribe can try to trade Choo before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. If the team competes into the second half, and then fades (like in 2011 and 2013), then the Indians can at least try to get some Draft compensation.
Can anyone really expect a quick turnaround, though? It’s certainly not impossible, but it’s highly unlikely. This is a situation that could take several years to reverse and that is why I think Cleveland should try to get as much as they can for Choo right now. The Indians explored the market for him this past July, and they should do the same this winter.
In July, Cleveland was rumored to be in talks with the Pirates about a trade for Choo that would’ve included outfield prospect (and right-handed hitter!) Starling Marte. The deal fell through, probably because the Indians wanted one of Pittsburgh’s impact pitching prospects, too.
That was when the acquiring club would’ve had a season and a half of Choo, though. Right now, Cleveland can only offer one guaranteed year of performance from Choo, and the acquiring club would need to take on whatever salary the right fielder nets through his final arbitration year. That could be around $7-8 million.
If Pittsburgh would’ve been willing to offer Marte and a top pitching prospect, the trade would seem like a no-brainer. That is the type of deal I think the Indians should try to pursue. Will they get it? Twelve combined years of control vs. one? That’s tough to say right now.
For those curious what Choo could earn on the open market, paying close attention to Michael Bourn’s (a Boras client, too) deal through free agency this winter could be a good gauge of the direction Boras goes. Another player to monitor is outfielder Hunter Pence, who is in his final arb year right now and will be a free agent next winter.
Why am I selecting those two for comparisons? Check out their respective showings from 2008-12 — they each fall in the 25-30 age range for that stretch — combined with their respective output from 2012.
Depending on what your personal preference, you could make a case for either Choo, Bourn or Pence as being the most valuable of the three players. Choo earned $4.9 million in 2012 in his second arb year, while Bourn made $6.845 million in his final arb year and Pence made $10.4 in his second arb year.
If Choo lasts until the end of 2013 with the Indians, the club could make a one-year qualifying offer to him in order to potentially net Draft compensation. This winter, such an offer was worth $13.3 million. That number will surely go up a touch next winter based on 2012 salaries.
It seems fair to say that Choo will easily command $10+ million annually as a free agent on a multi-year deal. We’ll know that for sure once we see what Bourn signs for this offseason under Boras’ watch. But, Choo’s free-agent contract will almost surely be someone else’s issue, not Cleveland’s.
These types of comparisons are not only important for free-agent contract talks, but also for trade discussions. Like an agent trying to sell his free agent to a purchasing team, a team needs to sell a player’s abilities to possible acquiring clubs in order to get the most out of a trade.
The Indians have plenty of data they could throw a team’s way. For example, there is this: since 2008, only nine players have achieved a slash line of at least .290/.380/.470 with at least 600 games played. That list includes Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Joey Votto, Joe Mauer, Chipper Jones and Choo. Not too shabby.
If you add in plateaus of 80 home runs 150 doubles, 340 RBIs and 350 runs scored, then Mauer and Jones are dropped from the list. Add in at least 80 stolen bases, and that exclusive list is trimmed down to just one player: Choo.
Cleveland has plenty of reasons to argue Choo is a special player, and that is why the team needs to explore getting as much in return for him as possible over the next few months.
The Indians are willing to listen to trade offers for a number of their players, but right fielder Shin-Soo Choo seems the likeliest candidate to be moved. He is in his final year of arbitration eligibility and is represented by uber agent Scott Boras.
Boras is famous for taking his players to free agency rather than exploring contract extensions. That is a large part of the reason Cleveland has not been able to sign Choo to a multi-year deal, despite the club’s efforts. During the recent GM Meetings, Boras continued to lay the groundwork for Choo’s likely exit out of Cleveland by firing a shot at Indians ownership.
“Choo’s let it be known that he has a desire to win,” Boras told a group of reporters. “I think the ownership in Cleveland, foundationally, they’re going to have to illustrate some dynamics with new revenues and where they stand about what they do to show their fan base and their players who they are in competing.
“That’s a new calling that they are going to have to bring forth to give players, and everybody involved, [an idea] about what their intentions are in their ownership.”
Indians GM Chris Antonetti chose not to get into a war of words with Boras.
“I don’t think we really need to react to that,” Antonetti said. “We obviously have to conduct business the way we think it makes sense for the franchise.”
As for Choo?
“We have, on numerous occasions, looked to try to extend Choo’s stay in Cleveland,” Antonetti said. “We’ve looked to extend his contract. We just haven’t been able to reach an agreement.”
Under the circumstances, it makes sense for the Indians to be open minded about trading Choo this offseason, or prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Otherwise, Cleveland will likely be in line for Draft compensation if/when Choo hits free agency next winter.
Other items of note:
- Kevin Youkilis fits a need for the Indians. He provides some pop from the right side and can fill the hole at first base. Plus, he can add some veteran leadership to a young clubhouse. All the signs point to Cleveland having interest in the free agent, and the club does. Other teams reported to be interested: Mariners, Marlins, Phillies, Dodgers and White Sox.
- The Indians have been rumored to have some level of interest in outfielder Jason Bay. Free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera might also be a player Cleveland targets in its search for outfield help this winter. The list of targets is undoubtedly long, and the Tribe is likely in the early stages of talks at this point.
- According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the Indians are one of several teams who have shown interest in outfielder Shane Victorino. Texas and Boston have also been mentioned as potential suitors.
- The Indians lack impact pitching prospects at the upper level of their farm system, so that is something the club will look to acquire as part of any trade (for Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson or Chris Perez, among others). So, it was not surprising that ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Tribe has sought young arms as part of trade discussions for Cabrera.
The Indians are in the market for help at first base, left field, designated hitter and in the rotation this winter. Coming off a 94-loss season, the club has potential trading chips in Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson, among others.
Here are some recent rumors and reports on the Tribe:
- The Indians are reportedly one of several teams with interest in South Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. Teams needed to turn in posting bids for the 25-year-old lefty on Thursday. Other clubs reportedly with interest are the Cubs, Rangers, Phillies and Angels.
- The Red Sox and Indians have had talks about the potential avaiability of Choo and Masterson, per Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com. Choo is coming off a solid year, but is a Scott Boras client and will be eligible for free agency next winter. Masterson is coming off a down year, but is under control for two more years, and had a strong 2011 showing.
- The Indians have reported interest in free-agent 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis. Other teams mentioned in rumors have been the Red Sox and Phillies. In Cleveland, Youkilies could be reunited with manager Terry Francona, and fill the Tribe’s need for a first baseman with some pop.
- According to reports coming out of St. Louis, the Cardinals have interst in Cabrera. Cleveland traded for infielder Mike Aviles last week, fueling speculation that Cabrera could be on the block. GM Chris Antonetti has said a few times that the Indians are not shopping Cabrera and expect him to be the club’s Opening Day shortstop.
- Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported that free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher has garnered interest from Texas, Seattle and three other teams so far. The Indians might have interest, especially if Choo is on the block.
- Outfielder Grady Sizemore, coming off a variety of health woes and with zero games logged in 2012, hopes to play in 2013. According to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, the Red Sox have checked in on Sizemore. The Indians have not ruled out bringing Sizemore back, but it would likely need to be on a Minor League contract.