BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Friday afternoon, the Texas Rangers officially announced the signing of free agent outfielder Sin-Soo Choo, who becomes the first Korean born player in Ranger history. The seven-year, $130 million deal was agreed upon last weekend subject to a physical, which Choo passed earlier this week. With the Christmas holiday, the official press conference to announce Choo’s signing was delayed until Friday. Choo is slated to be the Rangers’ left-fielder and will likely bat lead-off. He bats left and is a patient hitter. Last season, he walked 112 times in addition to batting .285 to rack up an on base percentage of .423. In today’s world of advanced metrics, .423 is the hot number that made Choo valuable. His contract is the second in Rangers’ history to exceed $100 million; the other being the $252 million 10-year contract that Alex Rodriguez signed in 2000. Choo’s contract is also the third largest contract signed by free agents this off season trailing Robinson Cano’s 10-year, $240 million deal with Seattle and Jacoby Ellsbury’s seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees.
Richard Justice of MLB.com immediately announced the Rangers as the winner of the winter off season with the addition of Choo to go along with the trade for Prince Fielder. The top of the Rangers batting order is now projected to be Choo leading off, followed by Elvis Andrus, Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios. ESPN’s Buster Olneys thinks it’s the top lineup in baseball. If this five holds true when the season begins, three of the top five spots will have been acquired since last July.
Choo is considered an average fielder, though his performance last year with Cincinnati did not grade well with the more sophisticated defensive measures. He has played all three outfield positions. As a base runner, he is considered fast, but does not take a lot of chances. With all the outs on bases the Rangers made last year, a cautious base runner at the top of the batting order should be a welcome relief. As a left-handed hitter, he should benefit from the Rangers’ Ballpark in Arlington jet stream to right center field. Choo has hit at least 20 home runs in every season in which he has played at least 100 games, and there are some that believe Choo would be more productive batting third in the Rangers’ batting order. He does struggle against left-handed pitchers. Last season, he hit .317 against right-handers, but just .215 against left-handers. There’s an odd breakdown of his performance against lefties. Oddly though for his career, he has hit .174 against left-handed starters, but .300 against left-handed relievers.
However, there are other commentators that are surprised that Choo received such a lucrative contract. The MLB network’s Ken Rosenthal is one that thinks the Rangers’ drastically overpaid for Choo. He pointed out that there have been 43 contracts in the history of baseball for at least $100 million in total value, and that Choo is the only recipient of the 43 that has not made an All-Star team. Harold Reynolds is also an MLB network commentator who thinks the 112 walks last season were just a blip on the radar screen. Choo has never walked 100 times in a season until 2013, and he has touched a .400 on base percentage in only one other year. Choo by the way has spent his entire career except for 2013 in the American League with Seattle and Cleveland.
It is indeed surprising that the Rangers pushed the envelop to seven years on Choo’s contract. He has appeared on a Major League roster over the last nine seasons, but has played as many as 100 games just four times. His career batting average is .288 with 109 home runs and 427 RBIs. His career on base percentage is .389, and the 112 bases on balls he received last year are almost exactly one-fourth of his career walk total of 449.
However, if Choo gets on base more than 40% of the time, and Fielder returns to the days of hitting more than 30 home runs; the Rangers’ offense will be significantly upgraded from last year. It’s a bold signing on Jon Daniels part. The Angels have made the big splash in free agent signings the past two winters as they inked Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C. J. Wilson to monstrous contracts. Scott Lucas tweeted this week that the Rangers’ future monetary obligations with the acquisitions of Choo and Fielder now exceed the Angels. There is certainly a lot of downside risk in these two acquisitions over the final years of their contracts, but if they perform as expected early, there is the possibility of a very high return to Ranger fans.
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