The Easily Attainable Shin-Soo Choo Alternative

There was a rumor the other day that Shin-Soo Choo turned down a seven-year contract offer from the Yankees worth $140 million. I’m not sure I believe that, but Scott Boras has been aiming high, as Scott Boras does. There are reports out that Boras is seeking Jacoby Ellsbury money, and in his most recent chat, Dave figured that Choo would end up with Jayson Werth money. The message is this: Choo is the impact guy who remains on the free-agent market, and he’s going to get paid. Plenty of teams are after him, and in the end he should get at least six years, and something in the vicinity of $20 million per. While he doesn’t come with Ellsbury’s potential for all-around value, Choo gets on base an awful lot, and what’s more important than getting on base?

A number of teams are interested in Choo, meaning a number of teams are looking for a quality corner outfielder, and have money to spend. Due to the laws of this world and this league, only one of the interested teams will actually get Choo, since there’s only just the one of him. But there is an alternative out there, and it doesn’t take the form of Nelson Cruz. The alternative is almost as good a player, and from all indications he’d be pretty easy to get. All you’d need to do is place a call to the Dodgers.

Next April, Andre Ethier is going to turn 32 years old. Three months later, Shin-Soo Choo will do the same thing, meaning they’re effectively the same age. They’re both left-handed, and they’re both listed a little over 200 pounds, with Ethier having an extra few inches. They’re both corner outfielders with recent experience in the middle. Ethier’s been a regular for longer, but over the past three years, they’ve had just about the same amount of playing time. Choo, of course, is a free agent. Ethier belongs to the Dodgers, under contract for another few years. The Dodgers would be tickled to be able to move a body from a crowded corner of the roster.

The names just feel different. There’s a perception of a pretty big gap. All Choo does is get on base, when he’s not hitting for a decent amount of power. Ethier, meanwhile, feels under-powered, and he’s not a good Gold Glove candidate. People have criticized the Dodgers for the contract they gave him, and the assumption all along has been that the Dodgers would need to eat some salary to ship Ethier somewhere else. That might be true, but when you actually compare Ethier just to Choo, by themselves, you can come away pretty convinced that Ethier would be the better investment.

We can begin in earnest with two statements that should be fairly inarguable:

  1. Shin-Soo Choo is better than Andre Ethier
  2. We need to care about more than just 2013 statistics

Over the past three years, Choo has been worth just about 30 runs more than Ethier, offensively, combining hitting and running. Choo has posted a considerably higher OBP, mitigated to some extent by the fact neither has really been a masher, and Ethier spent half that time in Dodger Stadium. Steamer projects that Choo will be 14 runs better in the season to come, but the players are also given wildly different playing times. Set them both to 600 plate appearances, and the projected difference comes out to eight. Let’s call it ten. Neither seems like any kind of particular injury risk.

You know who hits righties well? Both these guys. The last three years, Choo’s had an 11-point advantage in wRC+. You know who hits lefties well? Neither of these guys. Both have been lousy against southpaws, with Choo again having the edge. Still though, he’s been bad. Choo’s been able to get on base more, while Ethier’s been able to hit for power more, but they both look like big-money platoon candidates. Big wide splits, for both of them.

The other component of overall value is defense, and this is where there are a lot of questions. Plenty of people don’t trust the data we’ve got, and we all want the data to be better than it is. But the data we’ve got also happens to draw Ethier and Choo closer together. Over three years, by DRS, Ethier has been 19 runs better as a corner outfielder, in a few hundred more innings. He’s been 17 runs better as a corner outfielder, by UZR. By DRS, Ethier’s been 15 runs better as a center fielder, in half the time. UZR puts the difference at 16. Put it all together and Choo’s three-year WAR is 9.0. Ethier’s three-year WAR is 8.6. The numbers we’ve got for defense all but completely erode Choo’s considerable offensive edge.

But, absolutely, there’s uncertainty there. Ethier is probably the better defensive outfielder, but we don’t know by how much, especially going forward. Let’s just say that, beginning now, Choo is about five runs better as a player. The difference was bigger than that in the season that just ended, but Ethier had the higher WAR the previous two years. And the specific number isn’t going to make a huge difference anyway.

Ethier’s under guaranteed contract another four years, for $71.5 million. That goes up to five years and $86.5 million if an option vests, but that would require 550 plate appearances in 2017 and that would presumably require that Ethier still be all right. If you start him off at 3 WAR and dock 0.5 per season, you’d end up at 9 WAR after four years or 10 WAR after five. No matter what, you’re paying a little more than the current market rate for wins. That’s why people think the Dodgers would have to eat money.

Let’s be conservative and say Choo signs for six years and $108 million. Start him off at 3.5 WAR and dock 0.5 per season, and after six seasons you’d end up at 13.5 WAR. But Choo could get a higher average annual value, or he could get the same AAV over seven years. Again, you’re probably paying a little more than the current market rate for wins. It doesn’t look like there’s a bargain to be had out of the Shin-Soo Choo negotiations.

And then there’s the additional matter of the qualifying offer that Choo turned down. Sign Choo and you lose a draft pick, and that draft pick will be valued at some millions of dollars. Not a lot, but it still counts. If you trade for Ethier, you probably give up a nothing prospect so long as you take the whole salary.

If Choo’s better than Ethier now, he should project to be better than Ethier in the future. But it doesn’t look like he’s better by a whole lot, and I think it’s stretching it to say the difference is even as much as a win. Ethier will have an AAV of either $17.9 million over four years, or $17.3 million over five. Choo ought to beat that AAV, at least by a little, and then Choo’s also going to have a longer deal, by the end of which he could be almost worthless.

Choo is probably going to be better than Ethier for as long as Ethier is under contract. But, probably, he won’t be better by much, and he’ll get paid more, and he’ll cost a draft pick, and he’ll be under expensive contract longer. If you’re just trying to win immediately, Choo can get you closer, but that comes at a considerable long-term cost. If you look at the big picture, Ethier might well be the better get. Or he could simply be just as good an acquisition. Those last years are important, even if they’re almost impossible to think about today.

This is less an argument to trade for Andre Ethier’s whole contract, and more an argument to avoid paying out the nose for Shin-Soo Choo because you love his OBP. We can’t speak to the real current state of free-agent negotiations, but if there are teams thinking about six and seven years for Choo, they should also be thinking about Ethier, who could be had for little in a matter of minutes. And if the Dodgers are willing to eat a little salary, all the better. Andre Ethier isn’t signed to a good contract. But Choo’s probably not going to be, either, and that contract’s going to last an awful long time.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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JimEd14
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JimEd14
2 years 8 months ago

I’m now more convinced that I wouldn’t want either of them. Was that the point?

Some Guy
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Some Guy
2 years 8 months ago

Eithier of them!?

MustBunique
Member
Member
2 years 8 months ago

Isn’tthe point taking Choo’s superior offensive skill and moving him to a corner outfield position?

Nathaniel Dawson
Guest
Nathaniel Dawson
2 years 8 months ago

Jeff covered that, by referencing both player’s defensive stats. He compared their fielding in center as well as in the corners. Choo has been primarily a rightfielder through his career. He only really played center for one year.

jdbolick
Member
Member
2 years 8 months ago

It’s interesting to me that the Dodgers haven’t made a quick move to divest themselves of Ethier’s contract. I know they act like money is no object, but it still seems like they have enough sense to realize that he has value as a player and not dump that simply because he’s overpaid. I thought the Fangraphs column from a couple of months ago about why LA shouldn’t trade any of their outfielders made a pretty good case.

Matt
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Matt
2 years 8 months ago

With Kemp still being in a walking boot and Pederson likely not ready for the majors until 3 months into the season, they only have 3 healthy starting-caliber OFers. And the ones on the trade-table would be sell-low candidates.

Probably makes more sense for them to wait until June/July then deal 1 or 2 of them. Especially since paying Ethier 8.5 mil for half a season won’t break their bank.

Purps McGurps
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2 years 8 months ago

Thanks, Jeff. Though nobody really has any idea what the Dodgers would want in return for Ethier + cash. They are patiently waiting for Choo to sign his massive contract before jumping in.

Joel
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Joel
2 years 8 months ago

If only the Dodgers were looking for a second basemen (Nick Franklin) for their second basemen-less team, and the Mariners needed an actual viable solution in the outfield. Sigh.

Purps McGurps
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

They are pretty content with Guerrero, and I really don’t think the Mariners would make that trade

KingCorran
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KingCorran
2 years 8 months ago

Oh, the M’s would totally make that trade… if they needed to save money (they don’t), and if the Dodgers paid enough of the AAV (I suppose they might).

What would make that a good deal for the Mariners… Franklin, for a $10M AAV Ethier over 4 years? More, less? $10M/yr would be spending $4.45M per expected WAR (using the estimate of 9); $9M/yr would make it an even $4M/WAR. Almost half the contract either way.

I don’t think the M’s need to do this unless they sign a big arm, like Price/Tanaka/one of the FAs. If they get a lesser starting pitcher, they should preserve Franklin’s trade value (and on-field value at that!) for another opportunity.

harmony55
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harmony55
2 years 8 months ago

Oliver projects a WAR of 11.6 over the next four seasons for 22-year-old Nick Franklin and a WAR of 9.3 over the next four seasons for 31-year-old Andre Ethier. Given the salary difference, a trade would not look good for the Mariners (who reportedly seek a righthanded bat).

Dt
Guest
Dt
2 years 8 months ago

@55 the Mariners don’t have a place for Franklin right now except in AAA. So unless the plan is keep him there for a year or two and then move Cano to first and give Franklin second….

Fredchuckdave
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

Other alternative: Wait a year, sign Gardner for 5/80 or Rios for 3/45.

Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 8 months ago

Gardner, 5/80?! Yuck.

Fredchuckdave
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

It’s not a miracle contract that would never happen in reality type of situation, it’s what the market would pay for a lesser Crawford/Choo/Ellsbury.

MrFpadresfan
Guest
MrFpadresfan
2 years 8 months ago

Michael Bourn 4/48 vesting to 5/60 last year too. Lesser CrawChooBury market might not be that high

studstats_13
Member
studstats_13
2 years 8 months ago

gardner will never hold up all he has is speed and that doesn’t usally stay with a player in their 30s.

worldseries26
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worldseries26
2 years 8 months ago

Yeah history shows that speed based players usually age poorly compared to their unathletic bretheren: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-slow-decline-of-speedy-outfielders/ While we’re at it we should also note the unarguable fact that high OBP guys fall off faster than any other type of player because the ability to take walks is completely random and not a skill at all.

Scott Bora$
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Scott Bora$
2 years 8 months ago

Damn you Sullivan!

Uncle Randy
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Uncle Randy
2 years 8 months ago

One thing you didn’t talk about is that/its likely true that defense, Ethier’s advantage over Choo, deteriorates more rapidly than does walk/hbp-driven OBP, Choo’s advantage over Ethier. That would mean Choo is, inasmuch as any 32-year old player is more projectable than another 4 years from now, a safer bet, no?

Ruki Motomiya
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Ruki Motomiya
2 years 8 months ago

At the same time, Choo just had a much higher BB% than his career norm, and presumably that will regress to closer to his career norm.

Guest
Guest
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

Choo led the league with 26 hbp. That wont happen again after this new contract.

Catoblepas
Guest
Catoblepas
2 years 8 months ago

Is there some article or study or something that everyone is referencing when they’re saying defense ages poorly? All I’ve seen recently is Dave’s article on Ellsbury-type speed players aging well, and while Ethier definitely is of a somewhat different mold, a lot of the value for Ellsbury-types comes from defense, so I’m not totally sure that the idea of 32-year-old OBP > 32-year-old defense.

Jay29
Member
Jay29
2 years 8 months ago

Yeah it’s not like Choo’s defense should be expected to stay the same just because it’s bad now. Bad defense can always get worse, and Choo’s value as a full-time DH wouldn’t be that great. Better than Ethier as a DH, but probably not clearly better than Ethier as a mediocre corner OF.

RC
Guest
RC
2 years 8 months ago

CHoo is going to be a DH in a year or two. That doesn’t help value at all.

FeslenR
Guest
FeslenR
2 years 8 months ago

Choo isn’t Ethier or Jason Bay-but long term contracts are never really a good idea.

spmccaul
Member
spmccaul
2 years 8 months ago

Also, Choo has completely dropped off against left-handed pitching. Not that Ethier is much better, but that’s something to investigate a little more closely, perhaps?

JamesDaBear
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

Completely? He has a career .340 OBP vs LHPs and actually beat that last season. My bigger concern with Choo is what he’ll do away from the Great American Bandbox.

Cappy
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Cappy
2 years 8 months ago

Dodgers trade Ethier, turn around and sign Choo.

ralph
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ralph
2 years 8 months ago

On the point about using more than 1 year of data, of course we should.

But I wonder if execs are giving a little extra boost (beyond what the 3-year numbers indicate) to Choo because they feel like Choo’s 2011 down year can maybe be attributed to personal issues stemming from that whole DUI thing.

Stuck in a slump
Guest
Stuck in a slump
2 years 8 months ago

I think that most are. I’ve read reports that GM’s are tossing out Jimenez’s 2012 as an outlier and he doesn’t have the excuse of shame from a DUI or a rough divorce like Choo did for his 2011.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

Not sure the Dodgers would just give away Ethier. It would have most likely have been done already. They want prospects, and they have to hedge their injury issues. Also, they really don’t care what they spend at the moment, so the salary isn’t that big an issue.

But you nailed the Korean Andre Ethier comp.

KCDaveInLA
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KCDaveInLA
2 years 8 months ago

The more I see articles like this, the more I believe in the Rays’ model: lock up the young stars, get a year or two out of free agency, then afterwards let the Yankees/Dodgers/Giants/Red Sox/etc. get them through free agency as if these big-spending teams are paying the players for services previously rendered.

RC
Guest
RC
2 years 8 months ago

Hate to nitpick here, but the Red Sox don’t really participate in what you’re talking about.

dustin
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dustin
2 years 8 months ago

Carl Crawford is a textbook example of this.

RC
Guest
RC
2 years 8 months ago

The current GM didn’t sign Carl Crawford, and instead traded him away for prospects.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

RC – no, Crawford was not traded, he did net the Rays the comp pick though when he signed FA with Boston. The Rays used that pick in the last great manipulate the Comp B picks. The Rays emptied their pen for picks – Benoit Balls, Brad Hawpe, Rafael Soriano, Randy Choate. They loaded up with what everybody said would be the most awesomeest bestestest draft ever: Taylor Guerreri, Mikie Mahtook, Jake Hager, Brandon Martin, Tyler Goeddel, Jeff Ames, Blake Snell, Kes Carter, Grayson Garvin, James Harris all within the first 60 picks, plus 2 more in the top 100.

It doesn’t look good so far, but there’s still time. You won’t see something like that for a while. The CBA took care of the silliness of teams getting compensated for B-arms.

Matt
Guest
Matt
2 years 8 months ago

When Shankbone speaks, all you can hear is a ‘WOOSH’ sound going over his head.

Dean Travers
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Dean Travers
2 years 8 months ago

The 4 teams you listed have won 4 out of the last 5 WS; the Rays: zero. And that makes you believe in the Rays’ model?

Kermit Wilson
Guest
Kermit Wilson
2 years 8 months ago

Numbers of World Series won isn’t compelling enough counter to his point, for me anyway.

Guest
Guest
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

Why do we play baseball?

awalnoha
Member
awalnoha
2 years 8 months ago

To make money.

KDL
Guest
KDL
2 years 8 months ago

All those teams have missed the playoffs as much (or more) than the Rays over the same stretch of time. This is a better indicator of success/good process than which team wins the SSS tourny in October.

Spenny
Guest
Spenny
2 years 8 months ago

Does anybody really buy this? Because I don’t. The NFL’s tourney is much more SSS but small market teams expect their club to be able to win it, and they often do. Since the explosion in FA salaries small market clubs have been woeful in the postseason.

Dt
Guest
Dt
2 years 8 months ago

The NFL has massive revenue sharing and a salary cap, not comparable in any way.

Bip
Guest
Bip
2 years 8 months ago

The last 5 postseasons don’t give you any insight into statistical trends. We refuse to believe that the postseason is statistically meaningless because it means so much to us, but face it, it’s statistically meaningless.

A player need only hit one clutch postseason home run to be forever labeled “clutch” despite much greater evidence to the contrary. Those events seem huge to us, but it is not indicative of anything.

Tanned Tom
Guest
Tanned Tom
2 years 8 months ago

Of course first you have to totally suck for 10 years to get all the good draft positions to develop those young stars. Since they have such a poor fan base they have to do things as they do, but it’s been pretty much proven that spending big money when done with acumen produces the best results. If you’re a Royals fan I understand that sucking for 10 might seem like no big deal, but the rest of will pass on that as a model for success.

Go Nats
Guest
Go Nats
2 years 8 months ago

Kansas city is 1/20th the size of NY and considerably poorer. It is phenomenal the Royals win as much as they do.

GVeers
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

Seems like there are considerable error bars around the 0.5 win gap you estimate, Jeff. If you expand your timeframe to the last five years, Choo picks up two 5 win seasons and Ethier picks up a couple weak 2 and 2.5 win seasons. Putting it all together, Steamer projects they’ll both be worth three wins in 2014…but Oliver projects a full two win gap between them (4.7 for Choo vs. 2.8 for Ethier). Personally I would pick a 1 win gap between them, and maybe if you start accounting for injuries you could squint and see a true 4.5 win player in Choo.

Brian
Guest
Brian
2 years 8 months ago

I don’t know how long you spent writing this, but if I were you I would want that time back.

Bounty
Guest
Bounty
2 years 8 months ago

Well and if teams would be looking to replace existing 1-2 WAR outfielders, the extra WAR of Choo is more difficult to come by.

Get Choo and net 3.5 – 1.5 = ~2 wins 1st year, 1.5 2nd year, 1 3rd .5 4th then the 5th and 6th year you are basically paying a replacement player 20 million a year. So 100 million for 5 wins above 1.5 WAR player. 20 mil per win over 1.5 WAR player.

Get Either and net 3 – 1.5 = ~1.5 wins 1st year 1 2nd year .5 3rd…. then the 4th and 5th year you are basically paying a replacement player 17 million. So 86+ million for 3 wins above 1.5 WAR player. 28 mil per win over 1.5 WAR player.

So basically it highly depends who on your specific teams roster these guys would be replacing. If they’re replacing a 0 WAR player (what were you guys doing last year?) then you have a big upgrade, or a 1.5. WAR player and those are expensive wins.

Am I making any sense?

gareth
Guest
gareth
2 years 8 months ago

CC Sabathia. Cliff lee. Shin Soo Choo.

Teams apparently love giving ex Indians extremely large contracts.

Speaking of former Indians Lefties, I wonder what a healthy Grady Sizemore (circa 2008 – 30/30 season) would get in this current market? Such a shame about his career.

Noah Baron
Member
Noah Baron
2 years 8 months ago

I was all for the Mets going after Choo when I heard his price would be in the 5/80 range. Once the money started to exceed $100 M, I realized it no longer made sense.

Ethier would have been a solid get for the Mets, a team in desperate need of a high OBP leadoff hitter. Currently, however, I like their outfield defense, and if the organization is smart they will bat Duda/Satin leadoff despite their mediocre speed.

I imagine that Alderson would have went after Ethier if his price had been reasonable and they were willing to eat some money. It is Interesting how the Dodgers have been much smarter this offseason with regards to their baseball decisions, which is signified in their forward-thinking signing of Dan Haren.

Zack Wheat
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Zack Wheat
2 years 8 months ago

They’re not trading Ethier.

Cas
Guest
Cas
2 years 8 months ago

Why not? I know the Dodgers are full of money, but they could definitely use to drop his salary.

Jeff Bags Well
Guest
Jeff Bags Well
2 years 8 months ago

Astros trade Robbie Grossman, Austin Wates, and one of their many AAA pitchers for Eithier + cash. Deal?

Duplicato
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

not crazy at all.

_C1V
Member
_C1V
2 years 8 months ago

Joc Peterson approves this post

Duplicato
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

I see this piece as a cautionary tale on Choo. It also does well to downplay the folks who were outraged by the Ethier contract. By current standards the Ethier deal looks pretty fair (whatever that is). Some team will do well by getting Ethier plus about 15M – 20M from the Dodgers bc even can’t have a 16M per OFer sitting on the bench.

Duplicato
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

…even *they* can’t….

where is that damn edit button!?

Gary Mugford
Guest
Gary Mugford
2 years 8 months ago

Since wild-assed guess trades are being offered: Adam Lind to Pittsburgh, a Pirate prospect to the Dodgers and Ethier to Toronto. Cash goes to Toronto commesurate with the value of the prospect Pittsburgh offers.

The Pirates can offer up to maybe half the value of a Lind who fills the righty platoon role at 1B and has options that mean the Pirates can win big or draw, but not lose. The Dodgers get a prospect of some stripe, BUYING him in essence from Pittsburgh, while divesting themselves of a goodly portion of Ethier’s salary and Joc Pederson roster spot-block.

The Jays get an outfielder to turn LF, RF and DH into a rotation system with Cabrera, Batista and Ethier. Joey Bats has 1B on his future resume and might as well get started spelling Edwin Encarnacion. The fourth bench spot can then go to a right-handed hitting anybody at any position, rather than seemingly being set up for Moises Sierra. The Jays take the financial hit on Ethier’s contract minus the return money. There’s a $10MM difference yearly going forward, but the Dodgers are going to eat a LOT of that. And as this article states, even at full price, Ethier does look like he’ll be worth the four-year money.

Bip
Guest
Bip
2 years 8 months ago

I don’t think the Dodgers would trade Ethier’s whole contract for a nothing prospect. He has value to the team now, so it’s not like they have no reason to keep him. They also don’t have any pressing needs. It would be one thing if they desperately wanted a particular player and needed to shed salary to get him. In fact there isn’t a player on the market they particularly want (except possibly Tanaka) and they don’t seem to be running out of money.

The one thing they desperately want and cannot buy is young talent. I don’t think they were ever seriously in on Price because they don’t want to further empty their mediocre farm system.

If they give up Ethier, I’m sure they would much prefer to eat a lot of salary and get some good young players, as opposed to dumping him for the sake of shedding salary.

Bip
Guest
Bip
2 years 8 months ago

It’s like last season, when they traded Matt Guerrier for Carlos Marmol. In the trade they sent over about $500k in salary relief for about $250k in international cap space.

BigBubbaNoTrubba
Guest
BigBubbaNoTrubba
2 years 8 months ago

Jeff, I don’t buy your very modest WAR projection for Shoo. You think he’s gonna be a 3WAR player next season?

He’s going to a slightly better hitters ballpark, and more importantly, he’s not gonna play CF. He slots in as a RF, and that will of course boost his WAR.

A 5WAR season is a bit optimistic, but very feasible.

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