MLB Trade Rumors: Shin-Soo Choo, the Texas Rangers outfielder/DH owed approximately $5 million for the rest of 2018 and $21 million in 2019 and 2020, has been made available by the Rangers for some time, to no avail. While he wasn’t moved in advance of the July 31 trade deadline, no team would take on his contract, so he’s likely already cleared revocable trade waivers (or would, if the Rangers haven’t put him on trade waivers yet), meaning that he can still be traded this month.
There hasn’t been much indication that there has been much interest in Choo, despite his .274/.389/.475 slash line on the season. The combination of his contract and his defensive limitations — he’s a bad defensive corner outfielder best suited for the DH spot — means that the market for him is limited, even with the Rangers eating a good chunk of his deal. The Cleveland Indians have been talked about (at least by me) as a possible landing spot, given their outfield issues, but otherwise, the thought has been that it might take an injury to a hitter on a contender to create an opening for the Rangers to move Choo.
As fate would have it, those two things came together this weekend, with the Indians placing designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion on the disabled list with a hand contusion. Encarnacion reported biceps soreness, which was apparently the product of him adjusting his swing after hurting his hand on July 15, and the Indians opted to shut him down for what they would hope would be the minimum 10 days in an effort to get him right.
Now, if Encarnacion is out just the minimum 10 days, and is expected to come back as good as ever, one might reasonably believe this injury doesn’t impact the Indians’ interest in Choo, given they have a nearly insurmountable lead in the A.L. Central (Fangraphs gives Cleveland, currently up 12 in the division, a 100% chance of winning the division). That said, I’m not sure it is that clear-cut.
First of all, as we have discussed before, outside of Michael Brantley, the Indians’ outfield situation isn’t good. Indians right fielders have a 708 OPS on the season — 12th out of 15 A.L. teams. As for center field, the Indians have a 611 OPS from the position this year — 14th out of 15 teams, ahead of only the Rangers, whose center fielders have a remarkably low 549 OPS on the year. Choo obviously isn’t an option in center field, but this highlights how little the team is getting from two outfield positions, and how they are having to rely on the stellar seasons they are getting from Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor to carry the team.
For right field, the Indians aren’t expected to get Lonnie Chisenhall back until late in the season, if at all. In his stead, the Indians are largely going with Brandon Guyer (.200/.288/.379) and Melky Cabrera (.242/.291/.350) in his place. Choo is not a good defensive right fielder, but in October, in the playoffs, I tend to think you’d still rather have Choo in the lineup than one of those two.
Even Encarnacion isn’t doing that much damage for a DH. He’s currently sporting a 108 wRC+, and a 0.4 fWAR on the year. Interestingly, almost all of his value has come from a roughly two week stretch in late May and early June. As of May 24, Encarnacion was slashing .202/.282/.411. From June 6 until he went on the disabled list, he was lashing .208/.315/.393. It was a remarkable hot streak over those two weeks in between that has boosted his season slash line to .229/.317/.461 — which still isn’t exactly great for a DH. Yonder Alonso, meanwhile, has a 104 wRC+ and a 0.9 fWAR as the regular first baseman.
Now, does all this mean the Indians are going to be beating down the door for Choo? Likely not. But for a team that came very close two years ago, and is still in win-now mode, it at least seems possible that Choo would be seen as a desirable piece to plug into the lineup, particularly if there are concerns about how healthy and productive Encarnacion will be the rest of the way.
Its unlikely Choo gets dealt between now and the end of the year, and even if he does get dealt, the Rangers would probably have to eat at least half of his deal to get...well, nothing in return. But if a deal happens, it seems, as it has for a while, that Cleveland would be the closest thing to a fit out there.