Sep 25, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds center fielder Shin-Soo Choo walks to first in the third inning during a game against the New York Mets at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
The Mariners made a pair of moves on Wednesday in their quest to improve the offense. One was widely viewed as a brilliant acquisition, while the other was met with a level of confusion, and in some cases concern.
The first was signing Corey Hart to a one-year, incentive laden deal that reportedly tops out at $13 million if he meets all of the contingencies. Hart is a career 117 wRC+ hitter, and posted a 137 mark as recently as 2011. He missed all of last year however, which is why he got the deal he did.
If Hart can stay healthy, and is used correctly, (as a 1B or DH, except for maybe an occasional appearance in left field here and there) he could prove to be a great pickup. He has averaged 2.4 fWAR per 600 plate appearances over his career, and while it is unlikely he returns to previous form, especially coming from a hitters park, he could be a solid presence behind Robinson Cano.
Logan Morrison was the other acquisition, and the one that some questioned. He is a left handed hitter that bears striking similarities to Justin Smoak. While Morrison “can play left field,” he really can’t play left field. Some wonder if this means Smoak is on his way to Tampa Bay in a package for David Price. Others believe one of Hart and Morrison will end up in the outfield full time.
Despite that, “LoMo” has upside left with the bat, as a guy with some power and a good walk rate. He probably belongs as the left side of a platoon in an ideal world.
But with the acquisition of those two players came reports that the Mariners are now out on Shin-Soo Choo.
My initial reaction was one of perplexity. Why would acquiring two 1B/DH/OF guys, who together will cost less than $15 million at the absolute most, mean that the Mariners are no longer on the Choo (Choo) train?
While it may very well be true, it is really just speculation on the part of Jon Heyman who, if we are speaking candidly, isn’t the greatest analyst in the world. It would also suggest that the Mariners believe the current offense is good enough to compete, or that they have other ways of acquiring what they need.
The biggest knock against Choo seems to be the fact that he is a left handed hitter who struggles mightily against left handed pitchers. And it would seem on the surface that the last thing the Mariners’ seven-ninths left-handed lineup needs is another player who can’t hit lefties.
And there are times when that is true. Ideally, you would like to have a team that can hit against either handedness. But you also want a team that wins games, and to me, that holds a higher priority than having a “balanced” lineup.
This idea was written about at Lookout Landing, and I suggest reading that article. It essentially echo’s my position and supports why I am still on the Choo bandwagon.
Balance is something that usually has to come second. It is more of a luxury that belongs to teams that are already established offensively. Overall value is more important than having a lineup containing five lefties and four righties.
And adding Choo — rather than another righty just because he happens to be a righty — brings a lot of value. 5 wins of value last year, to be specific.
It is probably unlikely that he gets to 5 WAR again, but Steamer projects him at 3.2 next year, while Oliver pegs him at a 4.8. Somewhere between the two seems likely to me, and another four wins would certainly help out in Seattle.
Choo may end up getting overpaid, and he isn’t Robinson Cano, so that worries some people. As with everyone, my interest in Choo depends on the cost.
Oliver projects Choo to amass 20.5 WAR over the next five seasons. However, his projected DEF over the time is at a 2.1 per season, which would be the second highest mark for his career.
So if we instead just focus on offense, we see an average of 126 wRC+ over that same five years. I am not sure how Oliver conducts it’s projections, but that seems like a fairly reasonable decline considering Choo gets most of his value from his ability to get on base, which tends to age well.
I think somewhere around 17 WAR seems appropriate for the next five years. But Choo is likely to get more than five years, so let’s extend it to six years and 18 WAR.
So far the market price seems to be something like $6.5 million per WAR (or more). At that rate, Choo would be worth $117 million for 18 WAR. And keep in mind that does not factor in inflation, and the current $6.5M estimate may prove low in hindsight.
$117 million over six years is $19.5 million per season, over $2 million less per year than what Jacoby Ellsbury is getting. And while I was a big proponent of the Mariners pursuing him, Choo is actually more appealing to me the more I research both.
Because of that, I would personally have no problem giving Choo one year and $36 million less than what Ellsbury got, and sticking him at the top of the order for Cano and Hart to knock in.
Now, Ellsbury’s contract looks destined to be a pretty big overpay, so it may not be the best reference point. But if my quick $/WAR estimate above turns out to be somewhat accurate, Choo figures to be worth close to $20 million per year, for six – or even seven if you are feeling bold – years.
All of that was intended to illustrate my point that value is more important than having so many right handed bats, or so many power guys, or so many base-stealers, or whatever. Those things are nice, and often add up to a more successful team.
But I think a lot of people get way too wrapped up in having a certain amount of each aspect of the game, and don’t see the fact that value trumps everything else, no matter where it comes from.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would rather have a lineup containing nine Shin-Soo Choo’s than five Choo’s and four Nelson Cruz’s (Cruz? Cruz-i? What in the world is the plural of “Cruz?”).
Sure, Cruz is a right handed hitter with power. But that is where the positives end. He is 33 years old, doesn’t run well, doesn’t get on base much, and plays sub-par defense, yet will likely receive a fairly lucrative contract despite it all. Choo does more of those things well, even if he does own some extreme platoon splits.
These ideas may seem strange to those who subscribe to more traditional ways of thinking about baseball, but the numbers strongly suggest that even though the first lineup cannot hit righties at more than a .680 OPS level, it is likely more valuable because of how well it fares against righties (who make up about 70% of pitchers), and the slight advantage in base running and defense.
And just to be clear, I would certainly not advocate an all lefty or all righty lineup. But I would be much more concerned about the value and the whole picture than I would be with making sure I have another right handed hitter in there.
And this also isn’t to say that Choo is the only choice. There are some other players out there worth pursuing that don’t have the same split problems. But just because Choo struggles to hit lefties does not mean he isn’t an extremely valuable player that the Mariners should be all over. He is, and they should.