As the second or third highest ranking position player on this year's free agent market, depending on whose list you look at, Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo seemed comfortably out of the Yankees' price range - that is, until recent leaks began to suggest that the team is willing to spend a lot of money this offseason. On Wednesday, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported that Choo was discussed at the Yankees' organizational meetings and that he may be on their radar.
It's news to no one that the Yankees need to improve their outfield. Yankee outfielders batted .256/.314/.401 in 2013 and that's only after a late-season infusion of competence from Alfonso Soriano. He, Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner and Vernon Wells, the four players under major league contract for 2014, are all free agents a year from now.
In many ways, Choo would be a perfect addition to the geriatric outfield mix in the Bronx. Since the Gene Michael days in the early '90s, Yankee executives have highly valued the ability to get on base. When it comes to that skill, Choo's a machine. His .423 OBP in 2013 was second in the National League and he's at .389 for his career. Choo embodies a rare combination of selectiveness, power and speed. He's slugged .465 since debuting in 2005 and he's stolen 20 or more bases in each of his last three full seasons. After being dealt from the Indians to the Reds last winter, Choo's 151 wRC+ and .393 wOBA made him one of the more valuable assets in the game this year.
Choo, 31, has been relatively durable throughout his career. While a broken thumb cost him the second half of 2011 he's managed to play in 144 or more games three of the last four seasons. In signing him, the Yankees would be bringing in an extremely consistent player who they could count on to stay on the field more often than not. Plus who wouldn't want to hear what John Sterling would do with a name like Choo?
Beyond his on-field prowess, Choo would bring the Yankees some new marketing opportunities, which they've never been known to ignore. As arguably the most successful Korean-born player in MLB history, he'd appeal to the nation's second largest Korean-American population, numbering around 200,000 in the New York metro area. It's a demographic the Yankees haven't done much to tap into before, but one they may be targeting now with rumored interest in Choo and Korean pitchers Suk-Min Yoon and Seung-Hwon Oh. From Choo's perspective, after spending his career mostly within the boundaries of Ohio, a move to New York could open up countless chances to grow his brand.
There are cons to Choo. He's struggled against lefties throughout his career to the tune of a .243/.340/.341 triple slash and a 92 wRC+. He was even worse than that in 2013 with an 81 wRC+ and a .292 wOBA. He's also a liability defensively. His -16.9 UZR this season can be explained by playing out of position in center field for the Reds, but his -16.7 mark in right for the Indians a year earlier cannot. Given his age, Choo's glove doesn't figure to improve and he may be relegated to DH duty before his next contract ends.
The ultimate drawback, of course, is the price tag. A Scott Boras client, Choo had to be licking his chops when he learned of Hunter Pence's new five-year, $90 million deal with the Giants. That figure would be a mere starting point for what Choo can expect to receive. Odds are a team will need to go six years and $105 mil or even seven and $120 mil or more to get him signed up. Besides the Yankees, the Rangers, Cubs, Phillies, Astros Mariners and Mets are all believed to have varying levels of interest, meaning Choo could end up the subject of a pretty intense bidding war.
Choo's an attractive piece, but he's not a game-changer. He's not an overwhelming necessity the way Robinson Cano is. His value in the present isn't enough to justify the payroll albatross he'll be five or six years down the road. Overpaying in dollars and years for good but not great talent is a mistake that MLB teams commonly make and one they commonly regret.