Examining Choo’s value
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.