Although most of our offseason attention has been rightfully focused on the Cubs’ pitching needs, they will still need to add some position players to the mix, even if only for depth.
Specifically, we know the Cubs are likely to add a veteran back-up catcher (I’m still holding out hope for Alex Avila’s return) at some point, and probably a reserve outfielder as well (a la Jon Jay). But with an expanded role carved out for Albert Almora Jr. this season, that outfielder might not need to be a center field-capable type like Jon Jay.
Instead, he probably can be more of a true pinch-hitter/corner outfield/first base type, if that’s the way the front office wants to go. And if so, maybe 26-year-old Korean infielder/outfielder Ji-Man Choi fits the bill. In fact, according to one report, the Cubs, along with 13 other teams, have already made an offer to Choi sometime before the start of the Winter Meetings back in December. Kept that one under wraps for a while, eh?
According to Choi’s agency, however, we shouldn’t expect a deal to get done until the other “big name first baseman” like Eric Hosmer, Lucas Dude, Logan Morrison, and Mike Napoli, sign, but … I’m not quite sure that’s as much of a factor as they’d like you to believe. Even though there is some upside in his bat (we’ll get to that in a second), Choi is probably going to settle for a lesser deal (perhaps even a Minor League offer), worth, at most $1-$2 million (the report he already has an offer worth $1.4M on the table, but doesn’t specify from whom or even if it’s a Minor League split deal, or Major League deal).
But about that bat … Choi originally signed as an international free agent with the Mariners back in 2010 and spent the first five seasons of his professional career in their system. There, he was a fairly dominant hitter at nearly ever stop of significant length, with a huge walk rate, a good strikeout rate, and great results:
Rookie (159 PAs): 180 wRC+
A-Ball (294 PAs): 151 wRC+
High-A (211 PAs): 169 wRC+
Double-A (236 PAs): 151 wRC+
But he did hit a wall in 2014 when he reached Triple-A … just after he was suspended 50 games for the use of performance enhancing drugs. Still, he posted a 157 wRC+ and a 149 wRC+ in back-to-back Triple-A seasons with the Angels (2016) and Yankees (2017) over the past two years, so the bat is probably still worth exploring.
As for his Major League career, Choi debuted unsuccessfully (66 wRC+) for the Angels in 2016, and caught a whiff of the Majors with the Yankees last season, but has never quite gotten a foothold in The Show. And because he wouldn’t likely see significant time with the Cubs next season, I’m tentatively not expecting him to pick Wrigley Field as his 2018 home. Instead, it seems like a rebuilding club who could offer Choi the chance to play as much as possible – showing off his bat in the process – would make the most sense.
But you never know what he might prefer, and if the Cubs truly have an offer out, I suppose there’s always a chance.