Gil LeBreton

August 12, 2014

Choo soldiers on, despite disappointing season for Rangers

Outfielder wants to show Texas that it made the right free agent choice.

In this, his most disappointing of 10 major league seasons, Shin-Soo Choo plays on.

Despite an ankle that he sprained in April, Choo plays on.

Despite his numbers, despite his frustration, despite the Texas Rangers’ plummet to the bottom of the American League, despite all that … Choo plays on.

He says he doesn’t hear the fans, the ones who wonder why he doesn’t just excuse himself from the everyday lineup and get well.

He’s a baseball player, Choo says. He is paid to play.

And he is paid quite well, of course, which is sort of the problem.

During Christmas Week of 2013, the Rangers signed Choo to a seven-year, $130 million free-agent contract, with all expectations that the Korea-born outfielder would be an anchor at the top of the batting order.

But after batting .300 for the season’s first two months, Choo’s offensive production dropped precipitously. He batted .191 for the combined months of June and July, with only three home runs and 16 runs batted in.

Do not, though, he insisted, blame it all on the ankle.

“It probably bothered me the first two months, but not right now, not when I’m hitting,” Choo said before Tuesday’s game with the Tampa Bay Rays. “It’s most difficult when I’m base running, or when I’m in the outfield and have to change direction.”

Even a cursory check on Google, however, will show you examples of baseball hitters whose swings were altered by some manner of foot or ankle injury. Choo appreciated my layman’s medical diagnosis Tuesday, but he emphasized that he’s not looking for an excuse.

“Whatever happens with the numbers,” he said, “the player is responsible.”

Choo began the night batting .245 with an OPS of .719. In the five major league seasons before coming to Texas, his average season showed a .288 average and an .851 OPS. On the average, those seasons produced 37 doubles, 21 homers and 23 stolen bases.

Clearly, the Rangers aren’t seeing anything close to a $14 million player. But the team overall isn’t performing like a club with a $133.5 million payroll, either.

In the winter of 2013, there was every reason for the Rangers to conclude that Choo was either the No. 1 or No. 2 outfielder available in the MLB free-agent market. The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury for seven years and $153 million. The Rangers won the bidding for Choo.

The signing was designed to be revolutionary. Choo began this season with a .389 on-base percentage. His plate patience was going to lead the new vanguard of Texas hitters, grinding out at-bats and burning through the opponents’ pitchers.

But thanks to the injuries, the revolution never fired a shot.

To me, Choo, an intensely proud athlete, seemed to let the prevailing malaise of the team weigh too heavily on his own shoulders.

His contract, too, he admits, might have been a factor.

“Not just me,” Choo said. “Wouldn’t you?

“If you give me something, I want to give you something in return. The front office, J.D., Thad, Wash — they brought me here and trusted me, and it disappoints me that I haven’t been able to show them that they made a great choice.”

His performance has been discouraging, Choo said.

“But I have a lot of confidence still,” he assured. “I don’t think people this year have seen the normal Shin-Soo Choo.

“But they will, they will. I’ve shown consistency in every year of my big league career. This year I’ve gone down, but I can come back.”

He’s a baseball player, Shin-Soo Choo says. He plans to show you how he really can play.

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