Choo deal changes landscape for M’s

 Reports are coming in early Saturday morning that outfielder Shin-Soo Choo has agreed to a seven-year deal worth $130 million with the Texas Rangers. The deal marks a return to the AL West where the former Seattle Mariners’ prospect began his career.

Choo boasts a career line of .288/.389/.465 and was expected to receive more than $100 million as a free agent this offseason. Despite a poor career split versus left-handed pitching and poor defensive showings the last couple seasons, the 31-year old is an OBP machine who carries twenty plus home run power and plenty of pop, not to mention a great arm that should benefit with a move back to right field and the ability to steal a handful of bases too. Early projections like Choo to contribute around his career norms in 2014 which would represent a 3+ fWAR season for the newest Ranger.

The Mariners were rumored to be interested in Choo throughout the offseason, but found his price tag to be too hefty and were more interested in adding a right-handed bat to a very leftt-handed heavy lineup. The New York Yankees reportedly offered Choo $140 million over seven-years but that offer was turned down. While the South Korean native may not be the first player teams would like to pay close to $20 million annually, there’s no question he adds definite improvement to the Rangers’ squad and still would’ve been a significant upgrade to the Mariners.

First and foremost, the Mariners’ dreams of competing in the AL West in 2014 took another hit today as the Rangers will feature one of baseball’s most potent lineups.

Alongside the addition of Price Fielder, Texas will have a lot of new life in their lineup, especially towards the top of the order. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from the young Jurickson Profar as he embarks on his first full season in the majors, but his potential emergence would easily offset the loss of Ian Kinsler and possibility make the team even better up the middle. If the Rangers can get good pitching performances and manage to stay relatively healthy, there’s no doubt they’ll be a powerhouse in the AL West.

If there’s one thing the Mariners can take solace in with Choo wearing Rangers’ colors, it’s that this signing all but removes the Rangers from the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes should the right-hander be posted. With the new posting system agreed upon, even the subtraction of one potential suitor could make a world of difference for the Mariners. While it’s still up in the air as to whether or not the Rakuten Golden Eagles will post Tanaka, it’s conceivable that the Rangers are no longer likely suitors for the likes of Matt Garza or Ervin Santana if they’re out on the Japanese ace. Hopefully that’ll aid in the M’s pursuit of another rotation arm.

Perhaps the worst part of the Choo deal from the Mariners perspective is that Nelson Cruz appears to have only one real suitor left. It’s no secret that the Mariners’ community is largely opposed to a potential Cruz signing as the 33-year old is coming off a PED-suspension, is destined for a DH role, and is looking for at least a three year deal that will pay north of $15 million annually. There’s more red flags on this player than there were thrown by NFL coaches during the referee lockout. The Rangers were said to have offered two years to Cruz, but he was holding out for a third guaranteed year.

As much as it pains me to say it, Cruz does offer what the Mariners desperately need; right-handed power. He’s far from an ideal fit in Seattle as the Mariners have already acquired two more DH/1B/LF types in Logan Morrison and Corey Hart this winter. Cruz can’t play center, although Choo couldn’t really either, and would see his value maximized if he received the bulk of his at-bats as a DH. The Mariners are far better off keeping the DH spot open so they can preserve Morrison and Hart’s knees while hopefully having someone much more defensively competent playing the field. Adding Cruz would appear to be a regurgitation of last offseason when the team acquired Mike Morse, Jason Bay, and Raul Ibanez; three players that shouldn’t have seen much time in the outfield.

Of course Ibanez wasn’t brought in to be the everyday left-fielder and he did manage to knock 29 long balls at age 41, but he still ended up playing 100 games in the outfield. Bay was coming off of a series of concussion-related injuries so his underperformance wasn’t completely unexpected, and Morse was coming off of a career year that he was unlikely to repeat anyways. The M’s should be far more concerned with adding a legitimate everyday outfielder to the fold even after bringing Franklin Gutierrez back into the picture.

Surely there’s a scenario where Cruz’s market becomes so saturated that the Mariners can sign him to a deal that’s completely on their terms. Perhaps that’d be something like two years and roughly $26 million, but that’s a case we’re unlikely to see unless Cruz is still unemployed in late January, but stranger things have happened before. There’s been some banter that the M’s could look to flip LoMo, or incumbent first-baseman Justin Smoak, but unless they do so, Cruz only further complicates the DH logjam and there’ll once again be someone spending far too much time roaming the confines of Safeco Field.

Maybe the Mariners benefit from the Choo deal if Tanaka gets posted and they’re able to sign him, but that’s really the only situation where the team can get substantially better after the Rangers added another key bat to their 2014 equation. While we still sit ten days removed from January, time and players are starting to run out for the Mariners to improve their roster with. Cruz, Garza, Matt Kemp, and David Price are all still out there representing upgrades for the Mariners’ 2014 ensemble.

There’s arguments for every team in the AL West being improved this winter and the M’s still have plenty of work ahead of themselves if they’re even remotely serious about competing in 2014.

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Jason A. Churchill

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