Shin-Soo Choo had been the No. 1 target for Jon Daniels and his front-office staff from the start this off-season. And the Texas Rangers had been a team high on Choo’s wish list.
Finding a middle ground took about 20 to 30 phone calls between Daniels and Choo’s agent, Scott Boras, but it was eventually found and ownership signed off on it.
The Rangers and Choo reached a seven-year, $130 million agreement last Saturday, and it was officially announced by the team Friday afternoon at Rangers Ballpark. It’s the second-largest contract the franchise has given out to a free agent, behind the 10-year, $252 million deal for Alex Rodriguez before the 2001 season.
Choo, 31, will make $14 million in 2014 and 2015, $20 million each in 2016-18 and $21 million each in 2019-20.
“Today is my dream come true,” said Choo, who joined the Seattle Mariners in 2000 as an 18-year-old from Busan, South Korea. “My next dream is winning a World Series ring.”
Choo said his priority in free agency was to land with a contending team, and the Rangers certainly figure to contend with Choo as their leadoff batter and left fielder.
Choo also brings an offensive approach that the team was seeking. He is not afraid to extend at-bats and saw an average of 4.23 pitches per plate appearance last season with the Cincinnati Reds, the second-most in the National League.
Choo had a .423 on-base percentage and scored 107 runs for the Reds last season, which is another reason manager Ron Washington wants Choo at the top of his lineup. Washington praised Choo for having an “old-school” mentality at the plate.
For his career, Choo has a .389 on-base percentage and has scored 80 or more runs in four of the past five seasons. He also has power and speed with three seasons of at least 20 home runs and four seasons with at least 20 stolen bases.
Asked to describe his approach, Choo said, “Just focus every pitch. Not think about ‘I want to hit it; I want a homer; I want to do something … I want to see every pitch. This pitch is my last pitch.’ ”
The downside is that Choo is prone to strikeouts and has struggled against left-handers. But his patient approach is something the Rangers have been searching for, and it should pair nicely with another patient hitter, Prince Fielder, who is joining the lineup as the team’s other big-ticket off-season acquisition.
In fact, only Mike Trout (564) and Miguel Cabrera (562) have reached base more the last two seasons than Choo (556) and Fielder (542).
“We talked early on about our desire to remake our offense, both in personnel but also equally important in style,” Daniels said. “We feel very good about what we’ve been able to accomplish to this point.
“Choo was a perfect fit. His skill set, his personality, his personal goals and desires really lined up perfectly with ours and what our club needed.”
By signing Choo, the Rangers’ payroll is now in the $130 million to $135 million range, which is more than what ownership expected going into next season.
But co-chairman Bob Simpson knew how Daniels and the front office felt about Choo and wasn’t hesitant to go forward with the deal. However, this is likely the last significant acquisition the Rangers will make this off-season.
“Once they had Prince, we had several meetings and their No. 1 pick was Choo,” Simpson said. “So we’re a little bit out of budget, but it’s the chicken-egg thing. Fans aren’t going to come without the success, but they will come.
“This is a baseball town, and we’re betting on it.”