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In their efforts to improve their outfield production this offseason, Carlos Beltran is clearly the Yankees' top free agent target. There were reports of mutual interest between he and the team before the postseason even ended and Beltran is a near perfect fit as the type of big name player the Yankees love to bring in. But as I touched on earlier this week, Beltran comes with a fair amount of age-related risk at this stage in his career. He's right at the point where a player can fall off the productivity cliff at a moment's notice, and his disconcerting downward trend in BB rate suggests he could be closer to that cliff than his solid overall statistical profile would lead you to believe.
He's also not the only viable option for a right field upgrade. Former Cleveland Indian and Cincinnati Red Shin-Soo Choo is also a free agent this offseason. He's younger than Beltran (31), a perennial high BB rate guy with a much higher OBP than Beltran (.423 in 2013), and less of an injury/regression risk than Beltran. Choo is also reportedly drawing interest from the Yankees and if Beltran is OF target #1, it's a fair bet that Choo is right behind him on the list.
Choo isn't a switch hitter like Beltran, but his offensive profile as a left-handed hitter meshes very well with what the Yankee lineup needs. I mentioned Choo's BB rates and propensity for getting on base already and they are the backbone of his offensive makeup. He's never posted a BB rate below 10.0% in his Major League career and never one lower than 10.6% since becoming an everyday player. He's also got legitimate pop in his bat and his .288/.389/.465 career slash line (.374 wOBA) is very good bordering on great. To round out his offensive game, Choo has value on the basepaths to go with his power. He's got 3 20 HR/20 SB seasons and has swiped at least 20 bags in 4 of the last 5. All things considered, Choo's 2013 season - .285/.423/.462, .393 wOBA, 21 HR, 20 SB, 107 R scored, 5.2 fWAR - may have been the best of his career.
Where Choo's value takes a hit is in the outfield. He's been a consistently below-average defensive outfielder his entire career regardless of where he's played and he was really in over his head playing center for the Reds this season. Despite his speed and smarts on the basepaths, Choo has never been able to translate that to the outfield, where he struggles to get good reads and take good routes to balls. He's a significantly lesser liability in the outfield corners than he is in center, however, and the smaller right field area in Yankee Stadium should help him at least be passable defensively.
In terms of contract value, Choo stands to get more years and more money than Beltran because of his age. He's still in the tail end of his physical prime and save for a broken thumb suffered on a HBP in 2011 he hasn't missed any significant time due to injury. He's proven to be durable and his patient approach at the plate should allow his decrease in offensive production to be less severe when he does start to regress. Based on his age and output, Choo could get anything from the 4 years/$56 mil Nick Swisher signed for last offseason to the 5 years/$90 mil that the Giants just gave Hunter Pence. That end of the spectrum might be a bit too rich for the Yankees' blood, especially at the expense of their 1st round pick, but that's the same boat they're in with Beltran and Brian McCann.
I wouldn't expect Choo to be a top priority for the Yankees, more of a backup plan in case things fall through in their pursuit of Beltran and McCann. As a backup option for the outfield though, Choo might be a better long-term fit than Beltran. He hits for average, he hits for power, he gets on base, and he stays healthy. Definitely a lot to like there, for the right price that is.