Scouting The Trade Market: Shin-Soo Choo

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

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…

The Pros

  • 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.

The Cons

  • 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.

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Report: Indians will listen to offers for Shin-Soo Choo

Via Jon Heyman, the Indians will listen to trade offers for outfielder Shin-Soo Choo this offseason. The 30-year-old Choo is hitting .284/.366/.465 (131 wRC+) with 15 homers and 15 steals this season and is due to become a free agent after 2013. Per the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, a team must have a player on their roster the entire season in order to receive draft pick compensation if they leave as a free agent.

The Yankees figure to be looking for an outfielder this offseason as they’re expected to let Nick Swisher walk as part of the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. Choo is an all-around player who plays strong defense with a cannon arm, so he’d be a perfect one-year stop gap — count on Scott Boras taking him out on the open market as a free agent next winter. Whether the Yankees have interest or even the pieces to land him is another matter entirely, but Choo should certainly be on the radar if Swisher is allowed to leave.

Mailbag: Martin, Shoppach, Bourjos, Choo

Just four questions this week, and they’re all geared towards potential roster moves. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send us something.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Matt asks: Given his current performance, do you think the Yankees are going to re-sign Russell Martin (and, should they)? If so, what kind of contract do you think he’s going to get?

I wrote about the catching situation yesterday and how the Yankees should look for an upgrade behind the plate, but that’s obviously easier said than done. I don’t think Martin’s true talent is a .178/.297/.347 batting line, he’s probably closer to a .225/.320/.380 guy. That’s not great but it’s at least tolerable, you can live with it behind the plate as long as he’s solid defensively and hitting eighth or ninth. I think that Martin’s back may still be bothering him, which would at least help explain the recent dreadful production.

Anyway, looking for an upgrade and potentially re-signing Martin after the season are two different thing. I’m sure Russ is kicking himself to turning down that three-year extension before the season but then again the catching market is weak. After Mike Napoli, Martin will be the best free agent catcher this offseason. Someone may and probably will overpay. If the Yankees could bring him back on one of those one-year, “re-establish your value” contracts, wouldn’t that be a pretty decent stopgap option until that 2014 payroll plan takes effect? Pair him with Austin Romine as a veteran caddy, they could do worse as long as they actually split time behind the plate.

Gabriel asks: What about trading for Kelly Shoppach as a back-up? I just read on MLBTR that the Red Sox were thinking of dealing him. Red Sox-Yanks deals are always tough, but what do you think?

Shoppach can hit a little, though he’s not really a .267/.359/.522 hitter like he has been this year. His primary value comes against left-handed pitchers, who he’s tagged for a .249/.348/.465 line over the last three seasons. That’s a useful platoon guy and would be a clear upgrade for the Yankees. The problem, as you know, is the whole Red Sox-Yankees thing. I can’t see those two teams getting together for a trade unless Boston just completely falls apart and decides to sell before the deadline (or even during the waiver trade period in August). I think they would have to get a real prospect in return as part of the trade, otherwise the negative PR from “helping the Yankees” probably isn’t worth it. He’d be a fit, he knows the division from his time with the both the Sox and Rays, but I just don’t think he’s actually obtainable.

Alex asks: According to Jayson Stark, the Angels are willing to give up Peter Bourjos in a deal for the right bullpen piece. Given that David Aardsma and Joba Chamberlain will be back this summer, would it be worth dealing Rafael Soriano to pick up an outfielder for the next few years?

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

No, I don’t think so and for a few reasons. For one, the goal is still to win this year and trading Soriano for Bourjos decreases the team’s chances of doing so. Aardsma just had his setback and despite all his progress, we have no idea what the Yankees will get out of Joba until he’s actually on a mound for them. They can’t start counting their chickens before they hatch.

Secondly, I’m just not a big Bourjos fan. I know he’s young and cheap and under control for the next half-decade and all that, but I’m just not a fan of defense-first players. We’ve — well not me specifically, but the baseball analysis community in general — come a long way with advanced defensive metrics but I still don’t have a ton of faith in them. That doesn’t mean I think Bourjos or Brett Gardner are bad players, just that I don’t think WAR accurately grades out their value. Plus could you imagine those two in the outfield at the same time? Even with Curtis Granderson the Yankees would still be lucky to get 45 homers out of their outfield.

The Bombers do need to add some kind of young outfielder for the long-term, but not enough to trade Soriano for him unless you’re getting a Mike Trout or something. Soriano may opt-out after the season and sign elsewhere and leave the Yankees with nothing to show for his tenure, who knows, but the best chance for the Yankees to win this season — before Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, etc. get a year older — is with him in the bullpen closing games.

Joe asks: What is Shin-Soo Choo’s contract status and do you think he would be a viable candidate to play right field and therefore let Nick Swisher walk?

Choo is making $4.9M this season and will be under team control one more time as an arbitration-eligible player next year. He’ll be a free agent after 2013. The Yankees would have to trade for him and any kind of extension would probably be in the range of whatever Swisher gets this winter. Choo’s a year or two younger, better defensively, and more of a on-base/gap power/stolen base guy that someone who hits the ball over the fence. Similar players and the difference between the two really isn’t worth arguing.

I think rentals are generally undervalued; there’s nothing wrong with giving up prospects for one year or even half-a-year of a player if he improves your chances of winning that year enough. Choo falls into that category but I’m not sure if the Indians would actually make him available, and if they did the price would be pretty high since he’s their like, franchise cornerstone guy. Him and Carlos Santana. He’d be a perfect fit for the Yankees but as always, it comes down to the price.

Mailbag: Ortiz, Jackson, Choo, Sanchez, Soler

Got five questions this week; a nice mix of hypotheticals, prospect talk, and future targets. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in anything, including mailbag questions.

lol (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Matt asks: Let’s say this Montero trade had happened a couple months ago, and the Yankees had been looking for a DH from the beginning of the offseason — would you have wanted the Yankees to go after David Ortiz for DH? I know he accepted arbitration, but couldn’t he have become a free agent if he had declined his option with the Sox? If that had been the case, and he had become a free agent, wouldn’t you have loved to sign Ortiz for a one or two year deal? I would have supported that completely, personally. Not only would we have taken him from the Sox, but I think Ortiz would kill it in Yankee stadium. Let me know what you guys think.

I’ve thought about this over the last few weeks and I keep going back and forth. Part of me says absolutely, that big left-handed bat sure would look wonderful in the lineup while simultaneously taking it away from the Red Sox, but another part of me thinks that 2011 was Ortiz’s dead cat bounce, his last hurrah. The Yankees would have also surrendered their first round pick to Boston, and that just feels yucky. Ultimately, yeah I would have been for it on a one-year deal. Two years would have been pushing it. I doubt it would have happened though, the Yankees don’t seem to like the idea of spending upwards of $15M for a DH, and I can’t say I blame them. I don’t think that would have been any different earlier in the offseason.

Mark asks: Now that we know that Edwin Jackson signed a one-year deal with the Nationals, in retrospect and assuming they could be bought for their current contracts, who would you have rather had the Yankees sign: Kuroda or Jackson?

I’d rather have Jackson because he’s ten years younger and more likely to repeat (and improve upon) his previous performance. That said, this wasn’t an either/or situation. The Hiroki Kuroda deal set the market for workhorse starters on one-year contracts, and we have no idea what Jackson would have signed for prior to the Yankees landing Kuroda. It changed everything. I’m pretty thrilled about getting Hiroki on that contract, so I have no complaints about how things turned out.

Nick asks: Make sense to try for Shin-Soo Choo?

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Sure, he’d step right into the lineup this year before taking over in right field next year. It’ll buy the Yankees time to sort out the position long-term, which could very well mean re-signing Choo when he becomes a free agent after 2013. I don’t have many concerns about his down year at age 29; I think he’s got a number of .290/.390/.480, 20+ HR, 20+ steal seasons left in him. The only problem is how are they supposed to get him? The Indians fancy themselves a contender at the moment, so I doubt they’ll trade their second best offensive player. The Yankees have the pitching to get a deal done, but it would really thin out their upper level depth. So yeah, it’s not going to happen, but definitely a guy worth pursuing in a trade.

Charlie asks: Hey guys, what about Anibal Sanchez? If Hamels and Cain sign extensions and the Yankees feel Greinke is too risky, is Anibal Sanchez a strong option on the free agent market next season?

Yes, definitely. Joe was touting him as a trade target last offseason, and the great year he had — 3.35 ERA in 196.1 IP, a mirror image of his 2010 season — only makes him that much more desirable. Sanchez is turning 28 this month, so he still has a number of peak years remaining, which is what you hope to get with every big money free agent. And make no mistake, if he has another year like the last two, he’ll command huge bucks. I think the Marlins will find a way to sign him long-term, maybe even before the season starts, but he’s definitely a worthy target.

Ross asks: If you guys have time, I would like to learn more about Jorge Soler. It seems like signing him wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg and he would provide the minor league outfield depth the Yankees currently lack … a perfect Cashmaneuver™.

Here’s a snippet of what Ben Badler wrote about the 19-year-old Soler earlier this week (subs. req’d)…

Listed at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds … Power is Soler’s best tool, as he shows great bat speed, the ability to hit balls out to all fields and the potential to hit 25 home runs per year. While scouts like his power and some like his swing, he bars his front arm and the stiffness in his stroke is a concern for some scouts. Scouts have offered differing opinions on his ability to hit breaking balls, but he has a history of laying off pitches outside the strike zone in international competition and has more on-base potential than Cespedes.

Soler is athletic for his size and there are reports of him running the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds—a time that grades out as well above-average speed—but several scouts have said he’s really an average runner at best … Depending on how much bigger he gets, there’s a chance he could end up at first base down the road, but he should be able to handle right field for the near future. Scouts are mixed on his outfield instincts but he does have an above-average arm.

I prefer Soler to Yoenis Cespedes based on the little we know, and I get the sense that the Yankees do as well. He’ll obviously need to spend a few years in the minors, but that’s to be expected with a teenager. I have no idea what it’ll take to sign him, but if the Gerardo Concepcion contract is any indication of the market, it’ll cost eight figures. Unlike Cespedes, Soler has not yet been declared a free agent and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement-mandated spending limits will apply to him come July 2nd. He’ll feel some pressure to sign for whatever he can get before the deadline.