Since the start of the season the Indians have wrapped up contract extensions with two key core players, SS Asdrubal Cabrera (2 years, 2013-14, $16.5 mil) and C Carlos Santana (3 years, 2014-16, $ 17.75 mil and club option in 2017 for $ 12.0 mil). In both cases the team bought out the player’s remaining arbitration years and one year of free agency.
A third core player, RF Shin-Soo Choo, remains unsigned. Should the Indians also extend Choo and, if so, what is the likely cost?
Choo’s three best seasons (2008-10) established a record of solid but not elite run production. However, power and batting average declines in 2011 which occurred before hand and oblique injuries cut short his season continue in 2012.
AB R 2B HR RBI AVG SB OBP SLG
2008 317 68 28 14 66 .309 4 .397 .549
2009 583 87 38 20 86 .300 21 .394 .489
2010 550 81 31 22 90 .300 22 .401 .484
2011 313 37 11 8 36 .259 8 .344 .390
2012 89 11 5 1 11 .236 5 .358 .326
RISP LH RH
2008 .386 .286 .317
2009 .287 .275 .312
2010 .311 .264 .319
2011 .205 .269 .254
2012 (24 g) .292 .121 .304
Average Wins Above Replacement
2008-2010: 4.73 2011-2012: .085
Last season Choo dealt with a DUI and injured his thumb when hit by a pitch on June 24. He missed 6 weeks and then strained an oblique the last week of August and was out for the remainder of the year. At the time of the hand injury he batted only .244 with 5 HRs and 28 RBI in 267 ABs (72 games).
Choo spent part of his offseason training with the South Korean military, came into camp fit and healthy and posted decent Spring numbers (.271/2/5). However, he’s struggled from the outset of the regular season and 9 of his 11 RBI came during a single road trip so he has only 2 RBI in the other 15 games played. As a result, Choo dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 in the lineup.
Choo’s declines in power and average the last 2 years are notable as is a concurrent 25% strikeout rate. Colleague Ryan McCrystal traces Choo’s difficulties to an ongoing inability to hit breaking pitches:
Pitches Above 85 mph Pitches Below 85 mph
2009 .326 .259
2010 .310 .258
2011 .280 .196
2012 .254 .154
The Indians previously approached Choo about an extension but were rebuffed, a strong indication Choo intends to test the market.
In 2012 the club and Choo avoided an arbitration hearing with a $ 4.9 million one year deal. Choo retains a third and final season of arbitration in 2013 and hits free agency in 2014. His agent, Scott Boras, normally steers players into the open market absent a high level (i.e., above market) extension.
Choo turns 30 in July. Given his age and decline in production the last two seasons, an extension for more than 1-2 free agent years is unlikely. Would Choo/Boras accept such a short term contract (without a premium over market) and risk revisiting free agency at age 33 or above? Doubtful. Choo will want at least 3 years and hope for 4 or 5. With Boras’ track record and salesmanship, some team may go longer term and pay for the privilege, convinced it has a bargain.
Service 2011 2012 2013 2014
Choo 4.119 3.97 4.9 Arb 3 FA
N. Cruz 4.082 3.65 5.0 10.5 FA
A. Jones 4.139 3.25 6.15 Arb 3 FA
Pence 4.156 6.9 10.4 Arb 3 FA
BJ Upton 5.126 4.82 7.0 Arb 3 FA
Ethier 5.153 9.5 10.95 FA
According to Baseball Prospectus, players who filed for arbitration in 2012 received salary increases of 83% over their 2011 salaries, the lowest rate increase since 73% in 1996. Raises from 2010 to 2011 averaged 123%.
As applied to Choo, his 2013 arbitration salary with the Indians will range around or above $ 8.967 million (at 83%). What a world.
Using the more team specific Cabrera extension as a comparison, the Indians agreed to increase Asdrubal’s final arbitration year salary 44% over his 2012 figure (from 4.55 to 6.5 mil) and his first free agent year an additional 54% (6.5 to 10.0 mil).
A similar analysis for Choo would yield a 2013 extension salary of 7.056 million and 10.866 million in 2014. Absent evidence of a trend reversal, there is no reason for the Indians to pay such an inflated ‘market’ price.
— The Indians have few legitimate high minors OF prospects and would have to replace Choo through a trade or free agent signing (at what cost compared to an extension?). The Tribe does have middle infield help (2011 No. 1 draft pick SS Francisco Lindor) on the way to replace Cabrera when his contract expires.
— The team must also consider extending No. 1 SP Justin Masterson and closer Chris Perez (free agents in 2015) and valuable setup man Joe Smith (free agent in 2014) to anchor the pitching staff.
— In 2012 Choo already has missed 6 games (20% of the season), most because of a tender hamstring.
— Choo has a reputation as an above average defender with a strong throwing arm but his career fielding percentage is actually below league average (.982 v. .986) as is his range factor (2.17 v. 2.30).
— A South Korean, Choo came up with Seattle and may wish to return to or play in a city with a larger Asian population than Cleveland.
— The contracts of Travis Hafner (13 mil), Derek Lowe (5 mil), Grady Sizemore (5 mil) and Roberto Hernandez (2.5 mil) expire at the end of 2012 so the Indians will have some payroll flexibility.
— The extensions to Cabrera and Santana helped reduce fan perceptions the Indians never retain their good players (Sabathia, Lee, Thome, Manny) and team ownership is cheap or only interested in paring payroll to sell the club. Extensions to other core players like Choo (or Masterson, Perez and Smith) would help continue that trust building as long as they make baseball sense.
1. Is Choo’s downward trend line an aberration or a warning?
2. Is Choo cost effective at a projected arbitration salary in 2013 between $ 7-9 million or does that number force a trade this season?
Given the lack of a replacement, it is unlikely the Indians trade Choo if the team remains in contention. If not and if he continues to balk at an extension the chance of a trade quickly increases.
3. What are the chances Choo gets an extension?
Low unless the term and dollars are reasonable. Current team payroll (62.67 million) and small market revenue limits make it difficult for ownership to tie up 25-30% in Cabrera and Choo with significant increases to Masterson, Perez and Smith and others on the horizon.
4. The most likely outcome?
Choo leaves in free agency if not traded. Baseball reality interferes with fandom.