Have we seen the last of Choo in an Indians uniform? - Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE
Choo rebounded into his usual form in 2012, and it's looking likely that that will have been his last season in an Indians uniform.
Bats: Left Throws: Left
2012 Age: 29
2012 oWAR (B-Ref): 4.5
2012 dWAR (B-Ref): -1.9
2012 WAR (Fangraphs): 2.6
2012 Salary: $4.90M (Avoided Arbitration, 1-17-2012)
2013 Contract Status: Arbitration (5.119 Service Time)
Choo's 2011 was a lost season of sorts, but even in that "off" season he still hit .259/.344/.390, good enough for a 107 OPS+. In 2012 he was healthy, and he hit like it, especially in the middle of the season. Manny Acta moved him to the leadoff spot in May, and Choo took off at about the same time, becoming the Tribe's best hitter during in the middle months of the season.
Shin-Soo ended the season with the club's highest on-base percentage (.373) and slugging percentage (.441), and his 131 OPS+ ranked 15th in the AL, ahead of Austin Jackson, Paul Konerko, and Nick Swisher thanks to park effect adjustments. I hate to use the word underrated because it's so subjective, but a player like Choo fits that definition perfectly. He's never made an All-Star Game, his best showing in the MVP voting was 14th (in 2010), and he's never ranked high in any major counting stat, yet he's consistently been one of the most valuable players in the American League. He does a lot of things very well, whether it be hitting for average, hitting for power, taking a walk, stealing a base, or preventing runners from taking that extra base.
His overall value took a hit this year due to his defensive ratings; UZR took a nosedive from 2.0 in 2011 to -17.0, mostly on the basis of range (-16.8). UZR tends to be notoriously variable, so it could just be an outlier, or this could represent a disintegration of his defensive ability. I have a hard time believing Choo's defense could go to pot that quickly while he's still in his 20s, though.
Choo may be underrated by the baseball public, but I guarantee that he's not underrated by other General Managers, who will be trying to outbid each other to land Choo next winter. By that time it's likely that he'll be on another club, as the combination of his pending free agency and a poor 2013 team outlook will probably prompt the Indians to deal him sooner or later.
Having Scott Boras as your agent does simplify your career path if you're a good player. There have been exceptions (Jared Weaver to name one of them), but generally his clients eschew long-term contracts before free agency, even at times long-term contracts that don't buy out any free agent years. That means that a player has the risk of waiting for that big payday until their late-20s or early-30s, but most of the time, it's worked out. It is very rare for a Boras client to declare free agency and re-sign with his former club, much less a club that could be classified as small-market or mid-market.
Shin-Soo Choo is one year away from becoming a free agent, and because he is a Boras client, the Indians have two choices: trade him this winter or before the July trade deadline, or let him walk after the season and get a compensatory draft choice. Given the Indians' behavior with pending free agents post-Thome (and reinforced by Mark Shapiro in the FSO interview), I think it's a virtual certainty that they will trade Choo, whether it be in the next couple of months or, failing that, in the middle of the season.