Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was prepared to be patient in adding the final impact piece to the team's 2014 batting order. He liked Shin-Soo Choo immensely and would have been content to bring back Nelson Cruz on a short-term deal, and Daniels was in a position to sit and wait while the two players squirmed and the price potentially dropped.
In the end, Daniels' decision to spring into action was a sign that team executives, like players, prefer to have their business in order before Christmas if possible. He has an on-base machine at the top of his lineup, and Prince Fielder has a new playmate in time for the holidays.
With the exception of the news flash late Saturday morning that Choo had agreed to a seven-year, $130 million deal, there was precious little intrigue to this story. The Texas-Choo courtship lacked a mega-agent subplot, as we saw in Robinson Cano's negotiations with Seattle. And Cincinnati fans aren't going to call Choo a "traitor" the way Boston fans labeled Jacoby Ellsbury when he left the Red Sox for the New York Yankees two weeks ago.
Indeed, if you took a poll of executives and scouts, the vast majority would have identified Texas as the best and most logical fit for Choo from the outset. It made for a generally drama-free courtship, which was perfectly fitting for an under-the-radar player.
Sources close to Choo said the Rangers appealed to him for a variety of reasons apart from the contract. He is partial to spring training in Arizona and is comfortable with the idea of playing before a burgeoning Korean population in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. The Rangers, who are working on a streak of four straight 90-win seasons, also give Choo the opportunity to play for an organization with high expectations and a manager, Ron Washington, who is generally beloved in his clubhouse.
Still, the money didn't hurt. Texas has no state income tax, and the Rangers play a lot of road games in Seattle and Houston, where visiting players aren't subject to a tax on their earnings. The number crunchers at the Scott Boras Corp. concluded that he would have had to sign a deal for roughly $148 million with the Yankees to compare to the $130 million he'll receive from the Rangers.
What is Texas getting in return for its investment? Choo has never surpassed 22 homers or 22 stolen bases in a season, and his problems with left-handed pitching are well-documented. But he's a hard worker and popular teammate who has appeared in 150 or more games in three of the past five seasons. And when you look up from your box seat, chances are he'll be standing on first or second base. Since 2008, Choo has a .392 on-base percentage, seventh best in the majors among players with at least 2,500 plate appearances.
"For the next two or three years, he's probably going to be an elite on-base guy," an American League executive said recently during the winter meetings in Florida. "He's a plus makeup guy. He'll give you some power and probably play average defense on the corners. He's a very good hitter, but he's 31 next year. If you sign him to a seven-year deal, you know you'll be looking at a significantly declining skill set over the last three to four years of the deal."
Boras might have lost Cano to Jay Z and the Creative Artists Agency earlier this year, but he has found homes for Ellsbury and Choo for a total payout of $283 million. Now he'll most likely have to wait until after the new year to find spots for Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew.
During the winter meetings, Boras elicited a few smirks when he referred to Choo as a "revered" player and ratcheted up the compliments from there. As the Choo watch dragged on this week, Boras insisted that a lot of teams were keeping tabs on the outfielder and that it wasn't simply a case of Texas or bust.
"Shin-Soo Choo is a good fit for rebuilding teams and 'now' teams," Boras said. "He's a teacher and a great example for both the younger players and the veterans. He's like frosting. He fills a lot of cakes."
Like Cano, Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Mike Napoli, Curtis Granderson and Jhonny Peralta, Choo is now gainfully employed. It will make for a boring January on the free-agent hitter market, but Choo and Daniels can live with that scenario. Even in the hard-core world of baseball contract negotiations, there are some things -- like peace of mind -- that money just can't buy.