Shin-Soo Choo's contract is going to make you spit out someone else's drink. Joel Sherman gives us an idea:
Club on Shin-Soo Choo say Ellsbury (7-$153M) is guidepost in negotiations, expect final number between Werth (7-$126M)/Ellsbury— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 8, 2013
So the contract will be between Jayson Werth and Jacoby Ellsbury. That's remarkably descriptive. In other words, Choo will sign somewhere between good gravy and sweet crap.
I'm torn. For the last few years, Choo was the epitome of underrated. He ranked near the top of every most-underrated list, which seems like the kind of thing that would stop a guy from being underrated. But he never got to properly rated. He had just the right combination of doubles power and OBP prowess to be as underrated as he was, even as you were fully aware that you were supposed to be rating him higher. Choo's Paradox.
On the other hand, I wouldn't want my team to pay a 33-year-old Choo superstar money. Nor would I want them to pay a 34-year-old Choo that much. Or a 35-year-old, 36-year-old, or 37-year-old Choo. But that's what it's apparently going to take. If a team's in the market for an outfielder, and they want production above the Ibañez line, it'll cost hundreds of millions. Or, hundred of millions, at least.
Choo's good. Really good. But I can't shake the feeling that he's more of an outfielder in the right place at the right time than an outfielder who will be a pillar of production for the next three or four years. Let's go to a quick-and-easy tool and look at the players on Choo's most-similar-players list on Baseball-Reference.com:
Ain't a seven-year deal in the bunch. Other than Cuddyer, there aren't any players who would have been worthy of a three-year deal after turning 30.
Though the most-similar lists are more toy than predictive stat, it's still jarring to see those names up there. The one that stuck with me is Greer. He is absolutely the best comp for Choo from the last decade. He was an OBP monster with power, but not that much power. He was a capable defender, but noted mostly for his hitting. He owned a condo on the most-underrated lists for the better part of a decade.
Then he disappeared.
It's more than a little disingenuous to leave the story there, though. Greer had neck surgery and rotator-cuff problems that cut his career short. We didn't get to see how his career would have ended naturally.
So take a list of outfielders who accumulated between 20 and 30 wins before their age-30 season was over. Pay special attention to the hitters who didn't have 40-homer power. For every Torii Hunter, who remained consistent and productive through his mid-30s, there are dozens of I-remember-that-guys. Mike Greenwell, Jason Bay, and Danny Tartabull. Kevin McReynolds, Lloyd Moseby, and Von Hayes.
For the next two to four years, though, Choo would be a pretty sweet addition for any team. And maybe he's the exception, the guy who ages like wine. People mocked the contract Carlos Beltran signed with the Mets. He blew through the two-year contract after that one and played well enough to secure another three-year deal. In other words, if Beltran signed a 12-year deal, the contract still wouldn't look weird. Maybe Choo's like that.
(Choo's not like that. No one is. Always take the under.)
Let's see who might be interested.
It's hard to pick a favorite for Choo's services, if only because everyone could use a corner outfielder with his skills, and a few could use his ability to play competently in center field. The Tigers and Rangers have some corner opportunities. The Giants have a prominent hole in left. The Red Sox might want someone to counter the Yankees' spending spree. The Dodgers might want Choo to hang around and pinch-run, just because.
If you're looking for the marriage of short-term need and long-term derring-do, though, go with the Mariners. They want players to help Robinson Cano and company compete right away, damn the long-term costs. That sounds like a perfect fit.
Just don't think about how the Mariners traded Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera to the Indians in two separate deals for two different platoon first basemen. Do I bring that up in every article about Choo? Tough. It's amazing.
Who was the last super-premium free agent the Orioles signed? Miguel Tejada? That deal worked out quite well, actually, even though it probably shouldn't have. Let's see the O's try that sort of magic again, just to keep up with the AL East arms race.
Tigers, six years, $114 million. I can't buy the Werth/Ellsbury talk, not yet. And while the Tigers are reportedly out on Choo, and while the scuttlebutt has them ditching Prince Fielder to clear money for Max Scherzer, Choo makes a ton of sense for the Tigers.
Pretend they traded Doug Fister for Choo and Joe Nathan, and everything starts to make a lot of sense, actually ...