Obligatory caveats that would normally come at the end, but are needed up front to temper any undue enthusiasm: as it was with a number of free agents last year, a smart front office “talks” to just about every free agent that could conceivably fall into a range where they might possibly consider a deal. Don’t get too excited, and take this only for what it is.
On his radio show yesterday with Ben Finfer, Bruce Levine reported that the Cubs have talked to Shin-Soo Choo, and are legitimately interested in signing him. You can listen for yourself at that link (start around 4:30), and there is almost an air of “yeah, I can’t believe it either” in Levine’s voice. But his sources tell him what they tell him.
I know that credible interest in Choo is a bit hard to believe, given the tenor of everything coming out of the front office right now … but it isn’t impossible. Although we have suspicions, we don’t know that the Cubs won’t have a payroll that re-approaches $100 million in 2014 (there are cost constraints in place, without a doubt, but it’s not like $100 million is that high, all things considered – and that’s where Levine says the Cubs could wind up). I’ve got the Cubs at about $73 million right now when factoring in arbitration raises, pre-arb 40-man players, and outstanding payments owed to non-Cubs. Even with a closer and another starter in their sights, adding Choo is not so outrageous as to be dismissed out of hand.
We’ve been talking about Choo as a possible Cubs target as far back as August, mostly for the obvious reasons: corner outfielder, huge OBP, lefty bat, veteran, free agent, yadda yadda yadda. He’s a superficial fit, no doubt about it.
The problems with Choo emerged only after (1) the Cubs’ financial picture cleared up a bit, (2) the prospects of adding big pieces for 2014 became less palatable for a variety of reasons, and (3) Choo’s price tag started being reported as above the seven years and $126 million Jayson Werth got from the Nationals a few years ago. At 31 without a ton of pop, a corner outfield glove, a 2013 OBP that was inflated by an unsustainable HBP rate, and an enormous platoon split, devoting those kinds of dollars to Choo doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense.
A more reasonable deal, however? Unlike in the infield, the Cubs don’t have a glut of young talent immediately on the doorstep. They also don’t have a ton of impact left-handed bats on the way, and the “discipline” skill tends to last quite a ways into a guy’s 30s. Even if 2014 is going to be a punt job, having Choo in place for 2015 – when the Cubs will have no regular outfielders (save Ryan Sweeney, if you want to count him) under contract – could make a whole lot of sense.
So do I think the Cubs will make a hard push for Choo at his market price? I don’t.
Instead, if Choo is this year’s Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher – each of whom was looking for a nine-figure deal last year, but ultimately had to settle in the $50 million range – and doesn’t sign for a few more weeks or into next month? Sure. Heck, even at five years and $75 million – plus the loss of a second round pick – I would totally be on board with the deal.
With teams like the Rangers, Mariners, Diamondbacks, and Reds still looking at outfield bats, however, I’m not convinced Choo will have to settle.
But, hey – sources say the Cubs are interested. So it’s worth following.