The Yankees need to bring in a starting-caliber outfielder this winter and while free agency is the easiest way to satisfy that need, it’s not the only way. Brian Cashman has used trades to plug outfield holes three times in the last five years (Xavier Nady, Nick Swisher, and Curtis Granderson) and could very easily do it against this winter. Outside of Swisher, Josh Hamilton, and Torii Hunter, the free agent outfield market really isn’t all that appetizing.
One player who could easily wind up on the trade market this offseason is Shin-Soo Choo of the Indians. Cleveland is in perpetual rebuilding mode and Choo, a Scott Boras client who is unlikely to sign with the team long-term, will be a free agent after next season (MLBTR projects a $7.9M salary for 2013). Reports this summer indicated that GM Chris Antonetti will (again) listen to trade offers for his club’s top outfielder after making contract extension offers “multiple times” in recent years. The 30-year-old appears to be a perfect fit for the Yankees on paper, but let’s dig a little deeper…
- Choo fits the Yankees’ mold of power and patience from the left side. He hit .283/.373/.441 (131 wRC+) this year (131 wRC+ over the last three years as well) with an ISO (.159) and walk rate (10.6%) that were a bit below his career norms (.176 and 11.4%). Progressive Field is one of the most neutral parks in baseball, so he was neither hurt nor helped by his home stadium.
- Choo can really hit to left field. His 205 wRC+ the other way was the ninth highest in baseball this year and sixth among left-handed hitters. Since 2010, his 194 wRC+ to the opposite field ranks seventh in baseball and fourth among left-handed hitters. Here are his spray charts from 2012 and 2010-2012 so you can see for yourself.
- In addition to the power and patience, Choo will provide value with his legs. He’s stolen 20+ bases three times in the last four years, including 2012. He’s surprisingly adept at stealing third base as well, making it six times in seven attempts over the last two seasons.
- Choo has one of the very best outfield arms in baseball, so he’s capable of making throws like this and this. His 30 outfield assists are the seventh most in baseball over the last three years, but more importantly, he’s prevented runners from taking the extra base an above-average 48.2% of the time since 2010.
- Choo is a pure platoon bat. Against left-handers he hit just .199/.318/.286 (78 wRC+) this year and .239/.329/.318 (86 wRC+) over the last three years. His strikeout rate (21.9% overall, 24.8% against lefties) is not awful but it is worse than the league average. He wouldn’t bring any significant contact skills to the offense.
- Despite the stolen base totals, Choo is basically an average baserunner. He’s gone 55-for-74 in steal attempts the last three years, a solid but not stellar 74.3% success rate. He’s also taken the extra base just 40% of the time during these last three years, for all intents and purposes equal to the 41% league average.
- The various defensive metrics just hammered Choo this year, bad enough that his three-year stats (-8.9 UZR, -4 DRS, -17 TZ, -0.4 FRAA) are all in the red. He generally graded out as average or better in 2010 and 2011 but apparently was just brutal this year.
- It’s not the ugliest medical history you’ll find, but Choo is no stranger to the DL. He missed about a week with a hamstring issue this year (related to the poor defensive numbers?), about three months with thumb (surgery required) and oblique problems last year, and most of 2007 and 2008 with elbow problems that eventually required Tommy John surgery.
- This doesn’t really matter to me, but Choo has never played in the postseason. He was also arrested for DUI in May 2011 and admitted to pressing at the plate afterwards in an attempt to redeem himself. The Yankees value makeup, so who knows how they’ll feel about that. Choo did apologize to his teammates one-by-one and face-to-face following the incident, however.
Cashman and Antonetti have gotten together for a handful of trades in recent years, most notably the Kerry Wood and Austin Kearns swaps. The two teams aren’t division rivals or serious head-to-head competitors, so there shouldn’t be anything superficial like that standing in the way of a potential trade. The Indians are reportedly seeking starting pitching this winter and figure to target a young, controllable starter in any deal involving Choo.
The Josh Willingham and Dan Uggla trades give us a decent framework for a deal involving one year of an above-average but not superstar caliber player. Both Willingham (two prospects) and Uggla (Omar Infante and a prospect) required two pieces in return, one of which was an MLB-ready reliever. The real question is which starter do the Indians want? Ivan Nova? David Phelps? Adam Warren or Brett Marshall? All should be available in the right deal, but given the club’s general lack of starting pitching depth at the moment, I’d be loath to give up Nova or Phelps (plus a second prospect) without getting more than Choo in return. Maybe the Tribe could kick in a second player (or prospect) to even things out.
It’s important to consider that the Yankees already have two left-handed hitting outfielders in Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson, so Choo would give them a third. He definitely needs a platoon partner and you can make a strong case that both Granderson and (moreso) Gardner do as well, so offensively the outfield construction would be far from ideal. I’m sure playing in Yankee Stadium would improve Choo’s output and his arm would be a welcome addition to the defense, but he’d be useless against top AL East pitchers like David Price, Jon Lester, Matt Moore, and Wei-Yin Chen. That has to be a consideration. Choo’s a very good outfield trade target, maybe the best among guys who will be realistically available, but he’s not a perfect fit for the Bombers.