shin-soo chooYesterday’s discussion of the Chicago Cubs’ possible interest in Shin-Soo Choo was predicated almost entirely on that one pesky question that pops up in these situations: yeah, but how much?

And, right on cue, the answer (well, an answer) comes wafting out: a hell of a lot.

Joel Sherman reports that at least one team in on Choo has heard that the negotiations are using Jacoby Ellsbury’s recently inked seven year, $153 million deal as a guidepost. The expectation, Sherman says, is that Choo’s deal winds up somewhere between that Ellsbury contract and the one signed by Jayson Werth a few years ago (seven years, $126 million).

Using the Ellsbury comp is no surprise, given that each outfielder is represented by Scott Boras. The problems for Boras? (1) Ellsbury is more than a year younger, plays top level center field, and offers far more upside than Choo; and (2) everyone knows that Boras never would have accepted a deal this early on Ellsbury unless he was sure he gotten a hell of a deal.

So, you can throw the Ellsbury deal out when it comes to Choo. If some team is foolish enough to even approach that figure, God bless.

But how about the Werth number? We’ve heard this comparison before, and my standby comment is: stop using the Werth contract as a comparable for anyone. To do so implies that it was a market deal, and not a ridiculous overpay that has been appropriately ripped for years.

Instead, let’s just do the old WAR/$ calculation to get a range on Choo.*

*(This kind of approach is very, very rough, and involves a lot of approximating and guesswork. Necessary evil and all that.)

In 2014, Choo is projected to be worth 4.8 wins according to the Oliver projection system, but just 3.2 wins according to Steamer. That’s quite a spread, but we’ll average it out to 4 wins. From there, players tend to lose about 0.5 wins per year once they’ve started to decline. I could argue that Choo’s drop-off could be more steep because he’s already 31, or I could argue that it will be less steep because his “discipline” value is likely to hold up better than a slugger. So, I won’t make either argument, and will instead project him for 4.0 wins in 2014, 3.5 wins in 2015, 3.0 wins in 2016, 2.5 wins in 2017, and 2.0 wins in 2018. Choo may very well get a deal longer than five years, but, for our purposes here, I’m not crazy about the Cubs going to six or seven years on him. You can tack on an addition year and $9 million to the projection below if you’d like to bring it up to six years.

Using the prevailing rate of about $6 million per win, Choo should be looking at something like:

2014: $24 million

2015: $21 million

2016: $18 million

2017: $15 million

2018: $12 million

Total: Five years, $90 million.

That does not discount for the value of the second round pick that Choo would cost the Cubs (though it’s worth noting that, because he’d cost the Cubs a second rounder, and many other teams a first rounder,  any deal would be “cheaper” for the Cubs). If we were to do some discounting, we’d note that the projected value of the Cubs’ second round pick – expressed in free agent dollars – is about $15 million (see last year’s post on Michael Bourn for the details on performing this exercise). That would drop the contract down to five years and $75 million.*

*(Which makes me feel like a genius, because that’s the precise contract I spitballed yesterday for Choo before I’d even picked up a calculator.)

So, to provide clear expected value, a Choo deal should be limited to five years and $75 million or six years and $84 million. Something in that range. Far, far less than Ellsbury’s deal, and far less than Werth’s.

Does that mean Choo will get a contract like that? Not necessarily. A desperate team could look past his limited defensive ability, his lack of pop, and his advancing age and give him $100 million or more. I don’t think he’ll get Werth’s deal, but he still might get more than the Cubs should be willing to offer.



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