Where there's smoke, there's usually fire. Well, unless you follow the Detroit Tigers organization as closely as we do. Earlier this week, a media report from the New York Daily News suggested that the Tigers were targeting free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Dave Dombrowski downplayed these rumors, saying that he "would think we would not be involved" with a big-name free agent and "guaranteeing" that the Tigers have nothing brewing with Choo.
Who is telling the truth? We don't really know, but it appears that we won't be waiting long.
Choo negotiations "could move quickly," per Scott Boras. Rumor:Boston in. we shall see— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) December 6, 2013
Instead of doing Al's job and trying to read between the lines of random media quotes, let's take a closer look at what Choo brings to the table. I wrote a short profile of him a few weeks ago -- back when we had Prince Fielder and Doug Fister on the payroll, for what it's worth -- but it's worth expanding on whether he will or will not be a good fit in Detroit.
Pro: he gets on base
Holy blazes, does he get on base. He walked in 15.7% of all plate appearances last season, the second-highest total in the majors* among players with at least 400 plate appearances. He also led the majors with 26 hit-by-pitches, zero of which were from Doug Fister.
While these totals, along with the subsequent .423 on-base percentage, are likely unsustainable, this is nothing new for Choo. His career walk rate of 12.2% is still very good (Miguel Cabrera's is only 11.2%) and he has a career .389 on-base percentage. He has also drawn double digit hit-by-pitches in three of his last four seasons.
*Teammate Joey Votto was first, which explains how Brandon Phillips was able to drive in 103 runs while putting up a .307 wOBA last year.
Con: he is going to cost a bazillion dollars
In case you haven't been paying attention, here are the contracts handed out to top free agents so far this offseason.
- Jacoby Ellsbury: seven years, $153 million
- Brian McCann: five years, $85 million
- Jhonny Peralta: four years, $52 million
- Ricky Nolasco: four years, $49 million
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia: three years, $21 million
In addition, the Seattle Mariners are reportedly willing to give Robinson Cano a nine year, $225 million contract. They already have a couple second basemen I would have been happy to acquire a month ago, but that's beside the point if you're Jack Zduriencik. Carlos Beltran has a three year, $48 million contract on the table as well.
With the money that has changed hands so far this offseason, it is all but guaranteed that Choo's contract will be well north of $100 million, and he will probably top $20 million per year in average annual value. It doesn't make much sense for the Tigers to dump Prince Fielder and then go out and sign Choo to a massive deal, but it may happen.
Pro: he might help fund his own contract
According to reader AYC1982...
As a Korean born player, the Tigers would be in prime position to recoup a good chunk of any amount of money he costs in TV and merchandise money in Korea.
The ethnic effect (similar to Jeremy Lin and Yao Ming) in Asia is huge and a significant marketing factor. Korean TV would pay to broadcast EVERY SINGLE Tigers game. You’d get access to a market of 50 Million people who are fanatically loyal to their players.
Living in Korea at the moment, I can attest to the this. For years, Manchester United had a Korean born player. Manchester United Apparel is currently a brand on par with Adidas in popularity amongst youth. With Ryu in a Dodgers uniform, sales of LA Dodgers merchandise have spiked.
This also serves to increase the Detroit brand amongst Korean players currently in the KBO, which I would rate as the next best league outside of America, after Japan. Korean free agents could come to see Detroit as a destination, much in the same way as Detroit earned recognition amongst Venezuelan players.
With all that in mind, a 5-year 100 million contract for Choo, in real money terms, would actually be more like 5 years- 60~80 million.
Don't take the contract figures for gospel -- especially because we don't know how much of that money goes directly to the Tigers and how much gets split 30 ways -- but it definitely makes sense. Not to mention, I would love to see the Tigers branch into Asia and the KBO to widen their talent pool.
Con: he doesn't hit lefties
If Choo's platoon splits were the home/road splits of a Rockies player, no other team would touch him with a ten foot poll. He hits righties at a .309/.411/.521 clip (including a 1.011 OPS against them in 2013) but only hits .243/.340/.341 against lefties. He has trouble making contact against southpaws, fanning almost 24% of the time in his career. The wOBA and wrC+ splits -- .402 to .310 and 154 to 92, respectively -- are even more telling. Sure, the .340 career on-base percentage against lefties is nice, but the complete lack of power is not.
Pro: he runs the bases well
According to Fangraphs, Choo is an average baserunner. He was worth +4.6 runs on the basepaths in 2009 and -0.7 in 2012, the highest and lowest totals in his career, respectively. However, he has stolen double digit bases in each of the past five seasons, with 20 or more in four of those five years. The Tigers stole 35 bases as a team in 2013. They have only had four players top 20 steals in the past six seasons.
Con: his defense isn't as good as we thought
In my earlier profile of Choo, I said this about his glove.
He plays good defense in the corner outfield spots and has a cannon for an arm.
After looking deeper into his numbers, the first half of that statement appears to be wrong. Choo has been well below average defensively in each of the past two seasons, with a positional WAR adjustment making his numbers look slightly less awful in 2013. He has combined for a -32.1 UZR and -29 defensive runs saved since the start of 2012. This isn't quite Delmon Young territory, but it's not as great as advertised either. The arm is still excellent -- and the gaudy assist totals speak for themselves -- but his range appears to be seriously lacking at this point.
h/t Mark Geoffriau
Con: he is already 31 years old
This point is lessened if Choo signs for fewer than five years, but at this point a five year deal at any price is looking like a steal. The team that signs Choo will likely overpay by a year or two -- not to mention however many tens of millions of dollars -- and it's tough to say how well his game will age. He does a number of things well, but will his speed and power hang around long enough to keep him effective at the price he will be paid?
What do you think? Should the Tigers sign Choo?