COMMENTARY| The Cincinnati Reds took a chance that other teams may not have taken when they converted right fielder Shin-Soo Choo to center field, where Choo had played all of 10 games in his eight years prior to 2013. Defensively, the move of Choo to center hasn't been flawless (2 errors and other dicey moments), but his strong arm and sufficient range have made the gamble by the Reds to play Choo in center look acceptable.
Offensively, Choo has been worth his weight in gold as a leadoff hitter. Leading the majors in on-base percentage with enough pop in his bat to also rank within the Top 10 in MLB in on-base plus slugging is much more of a return on investment than the $3.875 million the Reds are paying Choo this year.
Even if the Indians weren't kicking in $3.5 million for the rest of Choo's full $7.375 million salary this year, Choo would still be a bargain for the Reds, especially when considering the historically low production (.254 OBP) from the leadoff spot for the Reds in 2012.
The acquisition of Choo by the Reds may prove to be the most instrumental addition -- regardless of price -- that any team made prior to the start of the season 2013 because Choo's pivotal presence in the leadoff position alone could prove to be the difference between a playoff berth and a World Series championship for the Reds. The leadoff hitter for the Reds last year in the playoffs, Brandon Phillips, fared well, but adding Choo atop the order has the look of putting the Reds over the top.
As a likely one-year rental, Choo's stay in Cincinnati stands to be a brief one. However, the bargain the Reds struck to acquire Choo will be remembered in baseball circles. For a leadoff-hitting center fielder, Choo was grabbed at a price that looks a lot better so far than the $7 million the Cleveland Indians forked out in 2013 to sign Michael Bourn to his four-year, $48 million deal, partly because Bourn has already made a trip to the disabled list in 2013.
Likewise, the Choo money for a leadoff-hitting center fielder so far seems a better value spent than the $7 million salaries paid by the Oakland A's for the services of Coco Crisp and the Seattle Mariners for Franklin Gutierrez, or the $8.25 million shelled out in 2013 for the San Francisco Giants Angel Pagan and $9 million the Boston Red Sox paid to avoid salary arbitration with Jacoby Ellsbury.
The money the Reds are paying Choo is on par with that paid by the Chicago Cubs to David DeJesus, the Colorado Rockies to Dexter Fowler, and the Washington Nationals to Denard Span. Save for maybe the $3.75 million paid to Fowler, the $3.5 million paid by the Detroit Tigers to Austin Jackson to avoid salary arbitration and the pre-arbitration deals for Jon Jay of the St. Louis Cardinals and Desmond Jennings of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Reds look like they have far and away the best financial deal going for a center fielder who bats leadoff.
Choo may put up numbers in this his contract year that will elevate him to a more elite pay status among all current center fielders. He won't approach the eight-year, $160 million deal that Matt Kemp has with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he'll likely slot between the six-year, $85.5 million deal Adam Jones inked with the Baltimore Orioles and the six-year, $51.5 million contract for Andrew McCutchen.
For the Reds to have a chance to make Choo more than a one-year rental, they would likely have to overpay to satisfy his agent Scott Boras, especially if Choo continues at the pace he's performing for the first month of the season.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds season here.
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