The sprained ankle that had slowed Shin-Soo Choo since April 20 was a widely known and oft-discussed topic when wondering what was behind his dismal debut season with the Texas Rangers.
The bone spur behind his left elbow wasn’t divulged publicly until Monday, when the Rangers placed him on the disabled list and announced that he would have season-ending surgery as soon as Friday.
Choo, it turns out, had been bothered by the bone spur since spring training, when he played in the outfield only sparingly while dealing with what was called “elbow soreness.”
Yet, Choo played, well at first and then into a steady decline toward a .242 average that is hardly befitting of the seven-year, $130 million contract he signed just before Christmas. The Rangers are left to hope that he will be far better when healthy in 2015 than he was over 123 games this season.
But they don’t know for sure after Year One. Instead, he gets an incomplete on the season-ending report card.
“I think he’s got more in him than we saw this year,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “The injuries played a role in that, for sure. I’m looking forward to seeing him at 100 percent next spring.”
The Rangers and Choo decided in July that he would be shut down in early September, a move that would allow him to recover from the operation in time to begin his normal off-season preparations.
With Choo dealing with the flu and unable to travel with the team to Seattle, all parties agreed to end his season 10 days sooner than the original plan. Michael Choice, the Arlington resident who was sent to Triple A Round Rock in July, was recalled to take Choo’s roster spot.
Choice will play over the final 32 games, though maybe not every day. Manager Ron Washington said that Jim Adduci and Daniel Robertson will continue to see action as the Rangers continue to evaluate players for 2015, but neither has the upside of Choice.
The belief/hope is that there is more in him moving forward, and that his tour in Round Rock has been beneficial. Choo’s struggles could also work in his favor.
“In this game, sometimes when things go south, it’s hard to correct,” Washington said.
“His first year was a strong one in the sense that with all the adversity that he went through and had never been through in his career, he didn’t shut it down. He kept fighting. He never made excuses. Sometimes you learn more from those types of things than the successes. We know he’s going to be a successful ballplayer.”
Daniels suggested that Choo tried to put too much of the burden on his shoulders when the Rangers’ season started going down the drain, with so many key players lost to injuries.
But Choo didn’t offer the injuries or anything else as an excuse throughout his subpar year. He wanted to be on the field. He wanted to produce. When it didn’t happen, things only got worse.
“He had the ankle and the elbow that he was dealing with on and off,” Daniels said. “I think he’s a very conscientious, caring player. The more things went south for the team, the more I think he tried to put on himself.”
Enter Washington’s belief that tough times make a player stronger. The Rangers are on the hook for six more years at $116 million. Another season like this one could make Choo’s contract one of the worst ever.
The belief here is that he can’t be as poor of a defender as he showed. Didn’t the ankle have to play a role in the catchable balls he missed and the extra bases that were taken as he slowly chased balls in the gap or in the corner?
And the drop-off at the plate — Choo batted .210 (58 for 274) after May 31 — had to be a combination of the injuries, the Daniels-suggested pressure or just one of those years. Players aren’t immune to these kinds of seasons, even $130 million players.
Choo’s average was 46 points below his career average entering the season, and the on-base and slugging percentages fell off 49 and 91 points for a .242/.340/.374 slash line. After his previous career-worst season of .259/.344/.390 in 2011 for Cleveland, Choo rebounded with a .283/.373/.441 season.
That would be a nice jumping-off point for 2015. The Rangers believe he has it in him, and probably more. But they don’t know it for sure.
After Year One, Choo will grade out to an incomplete on his season-ending report card.