One name which was absent from the trade winds blowing at the recently completed winter meetings was Cleveland Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. And now that the Indians are reportedly in talks with the Reds about a deal that could send Choo to Cincinnati for Drew Stubbs and Didi Gregorious, it’s worth exploring the possibility of the Tribe trading him this winter.
Why wouldn’t teams be interested in a dynamic player who is coming off a season in which he played in 155 games, logged 686 plate appearances, and posted a slash line of .283/.373/.443 with 16 HR, a wOBA of .359, and a 131 wRC+. He also stole 21 bases, committed only 2 errors in right field (.993 fielding percentage), and added 7 putouts to the ledger?
Although his 2013 salary is only expected be $7.9M (estimated by MLBTradeRumors) it will be his last season before he can enter the free agent market. He is also a Scott Boras client meaning the odds of a contract extension this winter either with the Indians or any club trading for him are long.
There are several directions the Indians can take each option has its own risks for the franchise and GM Chris Antonetti and President Mark Shapiro are going to have to weigh these risks carefully as they decide what to do with Choo.
The first variable that has to be considered when it comes to deciding when to trade Choo is the free agent draft compensation system. Under the new system a club has until 5 days following the conclusion of the World Series to offer a free agent a one-year contract set at a moving average of the league’s top 125 players. As a point of reference the 2012 qualifying offer was $13.3M and this will probably increase to around $13.5M in 2013.
If the player declines the offer and signs elsewhere the team receives a supplemental first round pick slotted after the first round picks and the six supplemental lottery picks. A team signing the free agent loses their draft pick but it does not go to the players former team as it had in the past.
Another wrinkle that directly affects the Indians efforts to trade Choo this season is that the compensation offer only applies to a player who spends the entire season with one team. In other words, a team which trades for Choo mid-season would not be able to make a qualifying offer and would thereby not be able to receive a compensation pick for him.
With the Indians organization is in need of young talent in their minor league system the question becomes whether or not they could afford the risk that he has a sub-par year and his trade value suffers or that he suffers a serious injury and his trade value is eliminated? How much would Choo’s value suffer on the trade market considering the team acquiring him would be unable to recoup anything at the end of the year when Choo hits the open market?
If the Indians decide to hold on to Choo for the 2013 season and he performs well they could assess the trade scenarios at the deadline. If they don’t believe they are getting a fair offer equal to a first round pick for him they could elect to hold on to him and make him a qualifying offer at the end of the year which Choo would turn down.
Early on in the winter teams will look first toward the free agent market to fill their needs since it only requires money to be spent and the pain of losing a young prospect isn’t felt. As the winter proceeds opposing General Managers will view Choo in a different light. They will begin to stop looking at Choo as a rental for one season and will begin viewing him as a path to the post season.
When it comes to risk versus reward the Indians would be best served to trade Choo this winter when his value is at the highest and the risk for the Indians is only on the return package and not variables such as poor performance and injury.
The Indians can sell other teams on the fact that they are acquiring an excellent dynamic player for the entire 2013 season at a reasonable cost and will be able to recoup a first round draft pick at the end of the 2013 season.