The Mets have turned their attention to the offseason, amid expectations that the Wilpons will be spending like it’s 1998.
And the apple of the Big Apple’s eye appears to be Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds right fielder who was second in the NL in on-base percentage. Choo is a fine player, and I can see why he will generate interest as a free agent, but when I look at Choo I see the next version of Jason Bay -- a 31-year-old outfielder with severe flaws coming of a year he is unlikely to replicate.
The biggest problem with free agents -- particularly those coming off of great years -- is that it’s easy to assume that their most recent season is their true level of performance when it’s most likely not. The Mets can look at Choo’s .285/.423/.462 line and think he will repeat that for a few years, but what if his future performance is more in line with his 2011 performance: .283/.373/.441? Or even worse, 2010: .259/.344/.390.
Considering Choo’s age, he’s much more likely to get worse than better. That would be palatable if he was starting from the level of a superstar, where he would hit the “very good” and “good” levels on his way down. But when you’re starting from “very good,” your decline phase gets ugly a lot quicker. (See "Bay, Jason".)
Another other issue for Choo is that he’s useless against left-handed pitching, hitting .215/.347/.265 versus southpaws this season, not far off his career marks. While that OBP is respectable, it’s fueled by 13 hit-by-pitches. That’s actually a repeatable “skill,” but it also makes him more of an injury risk. Also, that slugging is putrid, so you can forget about extra-base hits against southpaws. You want to pay eight figures per year for that?
“But he kills righties,” you might be thinking, and that’s true. The problem is that his weakness can be exploited by lefty relievers late in games, so it’s easy to imagine a situation when the Mets are actually playing meaningful September games and their second-best hitter can be neutralized by the Luis Avilans of the world.
Furthermore, Great American Ballpark is a great place for left-handed hitters, with a home run factor of 126 for lefties in 2012. (In other words, lefties hit 26 percent more homers there than at an average park.) Citi Field had a home run factor of 92 for lefties that year, which means lefties homered 8 percent less frequently than at the average park. This plays out in Choo’s numbers, as he has a .948 OPS at home and .823 mark on the road. It’s worth remembering that Bay signed with the Mets after playing in Fenway Park, a perfect spot for right-handed power hitters. Citi Field, not so much.
Choo would be leaving an environment perfectly suited to highlight his strengths and going to one that is almost certain to diminish them. Factor in his age and his impotence against lefties, and that’s the recipe for a free-agent disaster.
The Mets are in good position to sign Choo because they have a protected draft pick. Therefore, they don’t have to give up their first-rounder to sign him, which makes him, or any high-profile free agent for that matter, a lot more attractive.
He’d almost certainly be an upgrade over what the Mets have, but with all due respect to Andrew Brown and Lucas Duda, that’s faint praise. And when you consider that Hunter Pence just got a $90 million contract from the Giants without even testing the free-agent market, it’s probably going to take more than that to sign Choo.
If the Mets end up giving Choo the $100-plus million it will likely take to sign him, I have a feeling their front office and fans are going to be severely disappointed. I know Mets fans are tired of waiting, but free agency is not a quick fix, and Choo is by no means the cure for what ails New York.