Choosing Choo

Now that the Texas Rangers have filled their first base void with the trade of Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for Prince Fielder – not to mention their need for middle-of-the-lineup power and another left-handed bat – that leaves just a couple of key areas to be addressed.  Many were hopeful they would sign free agent catcher Brian McCann, but the New York Yankees swooped in and signed him.
Others continue to dream of further strengthening the already stout Texas rotation by trading for Tampa Bay ace David Price, though that would almost certainly cost Jurickson Profar and subsequently create a gaping hole at second base.  Since red-hot 2B prospect Rougned Odor is probably still another year or two away from being ready for Arlington, the only “logical” move that would follow a trade of Profar for Price would be for the Rangers to unload the vault and sign Robinson Cano to an epic contract not seen in these parts since Alex Rodriguez brought his duffel bag full of Biogenesis-brand syringes and centaur-themed self-portraits to town.

While executing such a highly-unlikely scenario would undoubtedly make the Rangers a more potent team in the short term, the financial ramifications – as well as the loss of critical prospects – would be catastrophic in the long term.  That being the case, it would seem to make much more sense to focus on addressing left field.

There have been several names repeatedly associated with the Rangers as possible left field options.  Young Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton has been the apple of many a Ranger fan’s eye for the better part of the past two years, but the Marlins seem to be steadfastly opposed to trading him, no matter how attractive the offer.  Jacoby Ellsbury is still available on the free agent market, but other than his 2011 anomaly season, he’s basically just a much, MUCH more expensive version of current Ranger left fielder Craig Gentry.  And while the name Nate McLouth continues to surface, does he really move the needle for anyone?

Which leaves the one name that really seems to make the most sense for Texas: Shin-Soo Choo.  He really seems to be an ideal fit for the Rangers in so many ways. First and foremost, the guy is an absolute on-base machine, having posted the fourth-best OBP (.423) in all of baseball last season.  Choo also brings more pop than the Rangers had in left last season, with his 21 home runs were more than Texas got in 2013 from both Gentry and David Murphy, who combined for 15.

Like the Rangers’ most recent big-name acquisition, Fielder, Choo is also very durable.  He played in 154 games last season, 155 in 2012, and at least 144 in four of the past five years.  Although he spent last year in the National League as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, Choo played each of his previous eight years in the American League, so he’s very familiar with the AL brand of baseball and would likely feel right at home in Arlington.

Choo brings a couple of other valuable assets to the table, as well.  Not only is he a solid defender, but he is also very patient at the plate, as evidenced by both his aforementioned .423 OBP and the fact that there was only one other batter in his league who saw more pitches per plate appearance in 2013 (Jayson Werth of the Washington Nationals) than the 4.23 Choo averaged.

Choo’s overall worth, in terms of WAR, shows him to be an extremely valuable player.  In five of the last six seasons, he posted a WAR of 3.4 or better, with the only exception being the 1.6 he posted during his injury-shortened campaign of 2011.  His 4.2 WAR in 2013 was the third-highest of his career, eclipsed only by the 5.5 and 6.0 he posted in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

No, he won’t come cheap.  In fact, he’ll probably be in the same price range as Ellsbury.  But unlike Ellsbury, Choo would be a significant enough offensive upgrade over Gentry to make such an expense worthwhile.  And though he’d also cost the Rangers a coveted draft pick, they’ll get another one back as soon as Nelson Cruz signs elsewhere (assuming he doesn’t return to Texas).

Now all that being said, Choo is not without his flaws.  Despite his gaudy on-base numbers, he remains a liability against left-handed pitching.  And though he’s a clear offensive upgrade over Gentry, his defensive skills (while solid) are not on the elite level possessed by the aforementioned “Kittenface.”  Choo is really closer in defensive ability to Cruz than Gentry (which is not meant to be as much of an insult as it probably sounded).

Simply put, of all the remaining options available to the Rangers among those most commonly discussed/rumored, the one that seems to clearly make the most sense for a variety of reasons is to sign Shin-Soo Choo as the team’s new everyday left fielder.  Let’s hope J.D. and the Texas braintrust agree, and decide to Choo-Choo-Choose Shin-Soo.

Bob Bland

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