Is It Time to Sell High on Shin-Soo Choo?

I hate commenting on baseless rumors and inane message board posts. People get all worked up about it when there’s never any truth behind the rumors or ideas. It’s usually best to ignore them.

However on an Indians message board that I used to frequent, I saw an interesting trade idea that made me pause. It seems like a trade both sides would agree is fair. But that doesn’t necessarily mean both sides would agree to the deal.

Indians recieve: Phil Hughes, Jesus Montero
Yankees receive: Shin-Soo Choo

Don’t throw your laptop across the room yet, Tribe fans. Yes, this would be a bitter pill to swallow after the brutal season we just endured. But it may be for the best interests of the franchise. Before I go into what the Indians would receive, let’s look at what the Indians would lose. Choo was easily the Indians best offensive player last year. A .401 OBP (.885 OPS) is hard to replace. He plays good defense, and should have been an all-star.

But here’s where baseball’s ugly economics rears its evil head. Choo is eligible for arbitration this year. The Indians hate arbitration, and haven’t gone to it since time began. They want to lock up Choo through his arbitration years (and preferably a year of his free agency) at a fixed rate. But Choo has Scott Boras as his agent. Boras is known for being a hard negotiator and getting top dollar for his clients. It’s going to be an uphill battle to get Choo to sign this contract.

Another question to ask is exactly how much better (if at all) Choo is going to get. His final numbers this year are remarkably similar to last years, although Choo had a better year this year and missed about a month to a wrist injury. But is he going to get better? Do the Indians want to be stuck holding the bag again, like with Hafner and Sizemore? Should they just sell high?

And here’s where we get in to what the Indians are getting, because they are selling pretty high. Hughes was a top prospect who finally seemed to get it this year. His numbers this year were decent (ignore that gaudy win total, he played on the Yankees): 4.19 ERA 1.25 WHIP a .244 BAA in 176.1 IP. He has a penchant for the longball (25 HRs allowed) and he got rocked in the postseason, but he’s only 24 and (stop me if you’ve heard this before) is considered a potential front of the rotation starter.

Montero is considered by many to be the Yankees’ best hitting prospect. He plays catcher but there are questions about whether his body can handle catching at the major league level. This isn’t really a problem for the Indians as they already have a really good young catcher in Carlos Santana. Montero’s numbers in the minors last year were impressive: in 504 ABs in his first season at Triple-A, he hit 21 HR with a .353 OBP (.870 OPS). He’s a right handed hitter, which there is a dearth of in the high levels of the Indians’ minor league system. This is the guy the Yankees wouldn’t trade to land Cliff Lee. Lee was a free agent at the end of the year. Choo is under the Indians (or the Yankees) control until 2013.

But this is not an instant “slam dunk” of a trade. This is high risk/high reward type stuff. You’re betting on a lot of things, namely that Choo regresses or stabilizes (and you assume he wasn’t staying in Cleveland anyways),  Hugues continues to develop like a frontline starter, and Montero can hit in the big leagues.

Yeah, it would leave a giant hole in RF. Yes, it would alienate fans. But if winning will bring back fans (as many of these “fans” claim), then this might be a way to upgrade the club. And given the uncertainty surrounding Choo’s contract situation, the time might be neigh for the Indians to sell high on Choo.

Tags: Carlos Santana Cliff Lee Grady Sizemore Jesus Montero Phil Hughes Shin Soo Choo Travis Hafner

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