According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees were relieved when Curtis Granderson turned down their 1 year $14.1 million qualifying offer on Monday. Despite the home runs, the team has grown tired of Granderson’s strike outs. The Yankees are now looking at replacements for Granderson, and the first name on the list is Shin-Soo Choo.
Choo spent the majority of his career in Cleveland before a December trade sent him to Cincinnati late last year. Over his career, he’s hit .288/.389/.465, good enough for a 135 wRC+. In 2013, Choo posted his best offensive season yet, hitting .285/.423/.462 with 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Though there were no flukes in the BABIP or batted ball rates, there is worry about Choo’s ability to hit left-handed pitchers. The left-handed batter hit just .215/.347/.265 with an 81 wRC+ in 221 plate appearances against southpaws in 2013. His career 92 wRC+ against lefties proves that small sample size isn’t a factor in his struggles.
But Choo also has value with his glove. He played a below average center field for the Reds, but there aren’t many teams that view him as a center fielder. Choo’s defensive value is in the corner outfield spots, where he has a career -2.5 UZR/150 in right field and a 13.7 UZR/150 in left field. His greatest defensive asset is his arm, which is in the top tier for outfielders. DRS has Choo as an average corner outfielder, with him saving 3 runs above average in left field and 2 runs above average in right field throughout his entire career.
Moving Choo to New York could help him in a number of ways. Though Great American Ballpark is one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the game, Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch should increase Choo’s power. With Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano already in the mix for center field and left field respectively, Choo would ultimately see most of his playing time in right field. The small dimensions will again help the outfielder’s range factors. There’s also some optimism that Choo’s struggles against left-handed pitchers could be reversed by hitting coach Kevin Long. Long has a history of correcting inadequacies against left-handed hitters facing southpaws, with Robinson Cano, Gardner, and Granderson all showing vast improvements over the years.
In comparison to Granderson, Choo is a much more patient hitter with less of a tendency to strike out, but there is certainly a downside to losing Granderson. Although Choo may see a power spike in Yankee Stadium, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll put up anything close to the 40 home run seasons that Granderson was capable of. Choo’s 21 home runs from 2013 were the second highest of his career, only beat by 2010 when he hit 22 home runs at Progressive Field. At most, this might translate to 30 home runs at Yankee Stadium, which while impressive, is not in the same league as the 41 home run or 43 home run seasons Granderson produced in 2011 and 2012. There’s also a very good chance that Granderson has better range than Choo, though there’s no doubt that he has the weaker arm.
Perhaps the biggest factor in all of this is age. Granderson is a year and a half older than Choo, and although that might not tell us much for 2014, the Yankees are likely looking at both players as long term investments. Even with that one-year qualifying offer to Granderson, the outfield market in 2015 is barren, and if Granderson accepted the offer, he may be their best option for next offseason as well. Instead, the Yankees probably see Choo as the safer bet, who has age and a large number of plate appearances to prove his value in 2013. It’ll cost any team considerably more, as MLB Trade Rumors predicts Granderson receives a 3 year $45 million deal and Choo a 6 year $100 million deal. Looking at the future free agent markets, it makes some sense that the Yankees would make such a big yet safer investment for this offseason. Due to the awful free agent market projected in 2015 and the recent trend to extend players in baseball, there’s a risk in a shorter investment to an older Granderson.