Choo Prolly Made Himself $26 Million on Friday

South Korea beat Taiwan 9-3 Friday in the Asian Games baseball final. Fans of South Korean baseball are celebrating, but Cleveland fans are probably excited, too, as this likely exempts outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from his mandatory two years of South Korean military service. That’s obviously good news for the Cleveland franchise, as he’s been their best player the last couple of seasons. It is also great for Choo himself, given his age and his arbitration status. During the 2010 MLB playoffs, certain writers on Twitter made comments that went something like this: “[Player X] prolly made himself $15 million dollars with that home run,” which led to much parody among the snarkier circles of the Nerdosphere. It was all in good fun, as such claims were more than a bit silly. However, in Choo’s case he may very well have made tens of millions of dollars with this one game.

I’m not going to speculate about other avenues Choo might have had available to him if South Korea hadn’t won. Yes, Choo, who is 28 now, could probably come back at 30 and resume his major league career. But there is a pretty big difference between a 28 year-old and a 30 year-old in baseball terms even without considering the rust that would likely develop in his time away. It would also effect Choo’s potential future earnings down the road, as becomig a free agent at 31 (as he will now) gives him two more years of earning before he hangs it up. Finally, this is be a big year for Choo because he is now eligible for salary arbitration.

While calling a player “underrated” is a tired mode of expression, it is undoubtedly true in Choo’s case. Despite a relative lack attention from the national press, over the past three seasons, Choo has been the sixth most valuable outfielder in baseball, and that’s with him playing just over half a season in 2008. He has been the fourth most valuable outfielder over the last two seasons behind only Carl Crawford, Matt Hollilday, and Ben Zobrist (a part-time outfielder getting most of his value from 2009). Given the contract Holliday received last off-season and what Crawford is likely to get this time out, Choo’s situation looks that much more interesting.

Indeed, if Choo was available, it is likely that he would be the second-most in demand outfielder on the free agent market. Crawford is rightly seen as number one, with Jayson Werth some distance (depending on whom you ask) behind him at number two. Werth is probably a superior defender to the average-ish Choo despite Werth’s down season according to UZR. But while Werth just out-hit Choo this past season (150 wRC+ to 147 wRC+), Choo out-hit Werth in each of the prior two seasons, Choo plays in a less hitter-friendly park and is about three years younger. If forced to choose, I’d take Choo over Werth.

Comparisons aside, what would Choo be worth on the open market? Using CHONE’s August 28 update, his “true talent” wOBA was estimated at .372, or about 28 runs above average per 700 plate appearances. Assuming average defense plus 28 runs offensive minus 7.5 runs positional adjustment plus 25 runs for AL replacement level, that’s about 4.2 wins over 150 games. Taking off half a win for aging and attrition, that puts him between 3.5 and 4 wins for 2011. Taking into account 10% a season salary inflation, half-a-win a year decline, and a conservative $4.5 million dollars per marginal win open market cost, at 3.5 wins for 2011, we’d expect Choo to get something around three years and $44 million, four years and 55 million, or five years and and $65 million as a free agent. Those projections are approxiamate, but they are also relatively conservative.

However, Choo is not a free agent. He is going into his first season of salary arbitration, in which players are get on average about 40% of what they would be worth on the open market. So rather than $15 million dollars, at 3.5 wins we’d estimate he’ll get six million. In his second arbitration season (following the rough inflation and decline curves from above), he’d get nine million. In the third season, about eleven million. Altogether, that’s an estimate of about $26 million dollars assuming Choo’s future is “average” (with all the uncertainty and lack of specificity that implies) and he goes year-to-year with arbitration.

I’ve painted an overly simplistic picture, of course. Choo could have come back after two seasons and still made some money. I’m not sure how the arbitration process would handle that. Now that they know he will be back next season, Cleveland can also try to buy out his arbitration years for less money (but more security for Choo). It is doubtful that the Indians will be able to buy out any of his free agent seasons given that Choo’s agent rarely agrees to something like that. So “made $26 million dollars” is more of an attention-grabber than the true conclusion of this analysis. Nonetheless, this is probably just about as close as one can get to saying that a player made millions of dollars based on one game.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

54 Responses to “Choo Prolly Made Himself $26 Million on Friday”

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  1. JR says:

    “Werth is probably a superior defender to the average-ish Choo despite Werth’s down season according to UZR.”

    I don’t know about UZR, but Choo might have the best outfield arm in the bigs right now.

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  2. Steve says:

    Choo has been the sixth most valuable outfielder in baseball

    Is this b/c he came from the Mariners?

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  3. Slugger27 says:

    the word “prolly”


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  4. exxrox says:

    I think that this whole argument is moot because Choo would have applied to become an American citizen had he not won the gold medal.

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    • YiYang says:

      The process of becoming an American citizen is difficult and drawn-out. Furthermore, he would also need to give up his South Korean citizenship in order to avoid military service. His time in the United States is wholly insufficient for a person even to get a permanent residency (unless he gets lucky and wins a lottery or one of his teams sponsored him for it early on). After that, in order to be naturalized to become an American citizen, he needs to be a legal permanent resident of the United States for at least 5 years.

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      • jaytho23 says:

        Or he could have just stayed here illegally and played.

        Sure, he’d have to skip games in frickin Arizona, but the rest of us would be cool with it.

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    • Charles says:

      Exactly. I’m not sure why this comes up over and over again. Being from Cleveland, I see the ‘Choo may have to leave for 2 years’ article once a month despite the Indians, and Choo, having made it pretty clear that they’ll work around the situation – in the exact manner you described – if the need comes up. This article was a nice shot at Heyman, but otherwise the whole drama is completely overplayed.

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  5. fenwik says:

    Okay I am clearly late to this party, but I don’t get it. Korean military service is mandatory…unless you win an international championship?

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    • Eric says:

      yes, because there’s a constant threat right above them, so they need soldiers all the time.

      but if you’re a star (of any kind), you’re exempt because the government wants to commerciallize those kinds of ppl.

      i.e. Chan Ho Park

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      • bflaff says:

        Which is why the whole thing about Choo being possibly forced to halt his fantastic MLB career to serve in the military never made any sense. The Korean govt isn’t dumb enough to create a huge stink by making the best Korean player out there take a hiatus from the game at his peak.

        Choo does way more for Korea and Korean baseball by putting up his numbers in MLB, and the Korean govt isn’t going to screw that up.

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      • Eric R says:

        I’m not certain this is still the case, but a friend of mine from College was Korean. He was able to delay his ‘military’ service for a while since they allow you to put that off so long as you’re in college. When he got his Masters, he went back to Korea and was ‘assigned’ to Samsung for his Military service. He was basically just a regular employee [save for that he couldn't choose where he could work for those two years], but it must not have been all bad, he’s still there 8 years later.

        I believe they basically look at it like they own you for two years and assign you to an area where your skills can be best used. And I’d say that is pretty reasonable for all involved.

        That all said, with Choo’s abilities, they almost certainly would be looking to maximize that, which is at a minimum putting him on their national team…

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  6. Kevin Yost says:

    I choo-choo-choose you!

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  7. James says:

    Usually the government will exempt the mandatory military service for athletes if they win something substantial. Think winning an olympic gold medal or in this case winning the Asian Games gold medal.

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  8. Joe D. says:

    I think I love Choo…
    So what am I so afraid of?
    I’m afraid that I’m not sure of…
    A Love there is no cure for.

    Thank you, thank you. Our next song will be “I Only Wanna Be With Choo” by Chootie and the Blowfish…

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  9. jaremy says:

    “It would also affect*… as becoming*”

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  10. Spartacus says:

    I think most people would agree that Choo is the best Korean player to come into the major leagues. Given that fact, I am sure the govt would have exempted Choo anyway. He has more value to the country with publicity then sitting on the DMZ line. The fact that they won the Asia Games probably saves face all around. The govt does not have to go around their official policy and Choo stays where he belongs.

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    • Yeah, but that takes away the (pseudo-) drama~!

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    • I hope this doesn’t lead to Choo not showing up for upcoming International competitions. Korea has a great team that should again put up a great fight in the WBC.

      As for the best Korean player, I think “Bak Chan-Ho” takes the crown there. Not only is he far and away the most popular on the “island”, he has also collected the highest WAR. It’s too bad injuries did him in. I’m sure, however, that Choo will surpass him in WAR, but public perception will always have Park as the “best” Korean in the minds of Dae Ha Min Guk.

      I’m eagerly awaiting the hopeful and eventual arrival Kim Hyun-Soo. At 22 he’s one of the best players in the KBO owning Choo-like power and excellent plate discipline. He has old-player skills, probably slightly more athletic then Nick Weglarz.

      Kim had a triple slash line of .317/.414/.531 striking out only 64 times in 565 at bats. This was actually slightly worse then his age 21 season where he dropped a .357 batting average!

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      • choo-choo train says:

        You know Kim Hyun-Soo? How do you know him? Anyway, Kim Hyun-Soo is a great player now but I think he can do much better than now. He has more things to show.

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      • I lived in Korea for a year and adopted Doosan as “my” team. Kim Hyun-soo really broke out the year (09 second half/10 first half) I was there.

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      • choo-choo train says:

        That’s the reason. This year Kim went through a “slump” season. Do you know Lee Dae-Ho? He made a hitting triple crown season with .364, 44HRs, and 133 RBIs. Of course he earned his first MVP award.

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      • But he’s much much older. Early/Mid 30s, right?

        Mind you, I’m sure he is a lot better then a lot of MLers who are making a lot more money.

        I’m not sure why MLB teams don’t dip their toes into the KBO more. Literally every MLB player from Korea is a celebrity and well known in the country so the increased exposure and merchandise sales seems as though it would pay for the players salary – which would probably be under $3M a year to get even the best Korean over.

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      • Sal Paradise says:

        Do you think that the looming fear of military service has something to do with it? Imagine signing a player knowing that you may lose 1 year of his service…

        Also, do you know what the rules are for acquiring a player from a Korean team?

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      • choo-choo train says:

        1. Lee Dae-Ho is 28 now, he was born in June 21st, 1982.
        2. Well… I think you should consider the difference of league level between MLB and KBO. I don’t think superstars in KBO also can be superstars in MLB right now. Besides their abilities, I think there are many things to overcome to succeed in MLB like jet lag (they might never have experienced during KBO seasons), language, etc. In addition, it is sure Choo is very popular in Korea, but his popularity doesn’t compare with Park Chan-Ho’s popularity in his prime. That means there are less fans in Korea who want to watch MLB games and may leads to less sales revenue. whew……..

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      • RE: Military Service
        Citizens of Korea are not CALLED to military service so much as they have an obligation to fulfill this “quota” of 2 years by the time they hit 30. A team could easily sign a player at age 22 and be confident he’s with the team another 5-6 years.

        RE: KBO v. MLB
        I recognize the difference in cultures although we have to expect as professional athletes that they will be able to adjust. There’s really no way of evaluating cultural shock as everyone deals with it in a different manner.
        It is said that the KBO is about the equivalent of double A baseball. However, on the slight chance that the KBO is more like high-A a player like HS Kim would be similar to a college player who just terrorized A ball. It’s not a precursor to success, but it would certainly be worth a promotion to double-A and a chance at triple-A for his age 23 season. We’re not looking at an all star by any means (yet), but we’re looking at a kid who is a level behind where he should be for his age and having tremendous success.

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      • RE: Popularity
        Keep in mind that when Park came over he was the first Korean to essentially ever play in American professional sports and that his first season(s) were incredible. At the time, park also had established himself as a star within Korea.

        Choo, on the other hand has seen much of his development occur on North American soil at a time when Korean baseball has taken off – at least talent wise where we are now looking at 1B in all of Asia.

        RE: Culture Shock
        Let’s be fair, jet lag would be secondary to kimchi, soju, and kpop!

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  11. I honestly can’t see Choo receiving $13M (ish) a year for a “maximum” of 5 years having good to great fielding with improving statistics. Keep in mind that his skill set is improving as he enters the prime of his career, so the attrition rate that you project, might be a little too soon.

    All that being said, I would project Choo to eclipse the 4 year $66M contract that Jason Bay received. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him approach the contract that Holliday received.

    Further, I wonder if his work regimen is similar to our usual players from Asia which may lead to an Ichiro-like longevity with his career.

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  12. Mark says:

    Those are big, really big numbers Brandon. I don’t think he gets Holliday money because the power output is quite a bit lower. I know all the current research says lineup protection doesn’t matter, but I do wonder if his numbers wouldn’t be better if any games he played in after April actually counted for something.

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    • Mark,

      The power numbers are marginally different. Keep in mind that Choo’s power is a recent development judging from his minor league numbers. We’re also looking at a power number that isn’t artificial in any way, shape, or form that hasn’t been boosted from a lineup or inferior league.

      And there is some research which suggests lineup has a role to play, although it doesn’t make a terrible hitter into a terrific one, or even and average one. However, there is an argument for good hitters to be a bit better. Choo’s wOBA is .383 whereas Holliday’s is .399 (although having a .439 number at home plays a role in that – at least somewhat).

      I know Choo probably won’t get Holliday money, but in my biased opinion, he is certainly worth it.

      And yea, Kim’s numbers are ridiculous! It’s not as if the KBO is littered with those sort of anomalies either. I think he’s a legit hitter who if he was from North America, would have Travis Snider-type hype.

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    • Except he earned it on more then how jeans look on him.

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  13. bookbook says:

    Have the Mariners traded away more topflight talent than most teams, or do we just savor our wounds more actively than most?

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  14. The_Beard says:

    Who is the ‘prolly’ writer on Twitter?

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  15. Jason B says:

    “over the past three seasons, Choo has been the sixth most valuable outfielder in baseball, and that’s with him playing just over half a season in 2008. He has been the fourth most valuable outfielder over the last two seasons”

    Of course with the usual caveat of WAR being one way, but not the be-all-end-all of player total valuation metrics, so other measures may reasonably differ. A more accurate statement would be that he’s been a top-10 OF over the past three seasons. Exactly 6th is…well…too exacting. :)

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  16. Another former Mariners player kicking butt. Great!

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  17. Brett W says:

    That whole “x just made himself $x million” talk IIRC took hold with the big-media types in 2004 with Carlos Beltran, although in that case it was almost certainly true. That might stand as the best walk year ever.

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  18. choo-choo train says:

    In late 1990s, South Korea was in deep economic depression. Park’s dominant pitching encouraged Koreans to overcome the depression. That’s why he is still Korean hero, I think. Though he is not a superstar any longer, it is great pleasure for his fans to see Park takes the mound.

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