Yesterday's news that the Cubs will likely pursue free agent-to-be outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, as reported by Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago, shouldn't come as much of a surprise. After trading away Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus in the last month, the Cubs' projected outfield heading into the offseason includes Nate Schierholtz, Brian Bogusevic and Junior Lake.
That trio is actually having a strong season, although the success of Bogusevic and Lake is in a very small sample size. But Schierholtz still isn't viewed as an everyday player and neither are the 29-year-old Bogusevic, who had a .596 OPS with regular playing time in Houston last season, or Lake, who was an infielder before being moved to the outfield to increase his versatility this season.
Another losing season in Year 3 of the Theo Epstein regime won't be taken very kindly by even the most patient and understanding Cubs fans. If they were to enter 2014 without making any outfield upgrades, they'd probably deserve the backlash that would occur if they were non-contenders once again.
Here are four good reasons why signing Choo to a projected four-year deal that would likely pay between $56-64 million would make a whole lot of sense.
Young Talent Is On the Way...In 2015
While the win-loss record isn't impressive since Epstein was hired as team president prior to the 2012 season (115-174), the farm system sure has improved. Outfielder Jorge Soler, who was signed out of Cuba last June, and the team's last two No. 1 draft picks, third baseman Kris Bryant (second pick overall in 2013) and outfielder Albert Almora (sixth pick overall in 2012), join 2011 first-rounder Javier Baez (pictured) as elite prospects that are considered to be amongst the best in baseball.
Several other minor leaguers who could help in the near future have also been acquired in trades since Epstein's hire, including pitchers Jake Arrieta, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, Kyle Hendricks, Neil Ramirez and Arodys Vizcaino.
This is certainly great news for the team's future. Cubs fans have reason to be excited and satisfied with the job that Epstein and company have done thus far. Just don't expect this crop of talent to make a major impact on the big league team earlier than 2015.
So, then, what about 2014?
Well, that's where Choo fits in. If they are to start adding hitters that will be in the mix for the next several seasons, that hitter will need to be an ideal fit on and off the field without handcuffing the team because of an outrageous salary well past their prime.
Signing Choo, whose consistent production from year to year over the past six seasons makes him a very safe investment, to a deal for his ages 31-34 seasons seems like a logical move. Not only does it help the Cubs in 2014 and beyond, it does not appear that he'd be taking up a spot reserved for a top prospect when they begin to arrive in the majors for good sometime around 2015 and 2016.
Two Birds With One Stone
With DeJesus out of the picture, the Cubs will be in search of an outfielder and a leadoff hitter in the offseason. The 31-year-old Choo is an outfielder who just happens to be one of the best leadoff hitters in the majors this season.
The Cubs lineup has gotten solid production out of the leadoff spot from a pair of hitters, Lake and Luis Valbuena, in a small sample size. Their track records, however, indicate that the Cubs would be crazy to expect them to keep it up over a full season.
Lake, who is 15-for-37 as the leadoff hitter during his brief major league stint, has a career .322 on-base percentage in the minor leagues, and has just seven walks and 32 strikeouts in 34 big league games. Valbuena, despite posting a .330 on-base percentage in 22 games out of the leadoff spot this season, has a career .301 on-base percentage in 408 big league games.
Without accounting for any other roster moves that could happen aside from Choo, it could be said that he'd be the team's best No. 2, 3, 4 and 5 hitter as well. His versatility in the lineup and in the outfield—he's a below-average center fielder, but he's handled the position adequately in Cincinnati this season—would allow the team to keep its options open throughout its other offseason pursuits.
Choo's .416 on-base percentage might be as good as it gets during his career. But it's no fluke; he had a career .381 on-base percentage coming into the season and he's stepped it up a notch in a season when he knew he'd be hitting leadoff regularly. Need more proof? Choo has a .385 on-base percentage in 714 career minor league games. He knows how to get on base.
Need proof that the Cubs are hurting for hitters with an ability to get on base? Their team on-base percentage of .301 is the third worst in baseball. Losing DeJesus, who had a .330 OBP, doesn't help.
With younger core players like Starlin Castro (pictured) and Anthony Rizzo on the current team and so many others on the way—Baez, in particular, could have trouble with plate discipline if his 38 walks and 134 strikeouts are any indication—having one of the best in the business at getting on base as a daily example can only be a bonus.
High Korean Population
Filling the seats at Wrigley Field shouldn't be too difficult. Because it's Wrigley Field! But attendance has dropped in five consecutive seasons from over 40,000 per game in 2008 to just over 33,000 per game this season, according to ESPN. Even if Cubs fans do understand that the rebuilding process needed to take place and fixing their team wasn't going to happen overnight, it doesn't mean they were going to come watch the product on the field as often.
Playing winning baseball and hosting meaningful games in August and September would be the best cure to the attendance drop-off. But having an everyday player for one of the largest Korean populations in the nation to cheer for certainly can't hurt . Especially when that Korean player is one as productive as Choo.
The Korean Beacon listed Chicago as the third-most Korean-American city a couple years ago, citing a budding number of Korean-owned businesses and a steady influx of Korean immigrants. This could be a major selling point in getting Choo to sign with the Cubs. And by bringing in Choo, a former MVP of the 2000 World Junior Baseball Championship won by South Korea, interest in Chicago Cubs baseball could increase in the community.
It won't have as much of an impact as having a winning ballclub would. But, fortunately, the talented Choo would play a part in both.
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