SF Giants: Could Interest be Reignited in Free Agent DH?
By Jeff Young
As the SF Giants begin to refine their offseason strategy in search of a left-handed bat, there is one name that they expressed interest in not that long ago.
At one point, the SF Giants reached out to the Texas Rangers regarding outfielder/designated Shin-Soo Choo. It was rumored that the Rangers would have sweetened the deal by sending cash to San Francisco.
Though, talks never got off of the ground. Regardless, it was interesting that the Giants expressed interest in the left-handed bat. Before the 2019 season, the Giants outfield situation was up in the air with only Steven Duggar and Gerardo Parra penciled in to see playing time. That feels like a long time ago, and the outfield has stabilized since then.
That said, Choo is not known for his glove in the outfield, and bringing him to San Francisco would have been an imperfect fit. As my old boss used to say about suboptimal ideas, “Square peg in the round hole.” That is what Choo would have brought.
However, in the batter’s box, long-time Ranger is exactly the type of hitter Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi seeks. He brings a mixture of plate discipline and patience, solid contact skills, and modest power.
Why would the SF Giants be interested in Choo?
In 16 years, the 37-year-old has registered a .275/.377/.447 line (122 OPS+) with 218 home runs and 782 RBI. On top of this, Choo brings a career .883 OPS against right-handed hurlers compared the .754 OPS the SF Giants posted as a team in 2020, and an area they are looking to improve upon.
Furthermore, he boasts a stout 12.1 percent walk rate against a 22.1 percent strikeout rate.
Only Brandon Belt (16.8 percent), Austin Slater (15.4 percent), Mike Yastrzemski (13.3 percent), and Darin Ruf (13.0 percent) posted a higher walk rate in 2020 than Choo’s 12.1 percent benchmark. As a team, the Giants produced an 8.6 percent walk rate, which was in the lower-half of baseball, so there is room for improvement.
Choo is entering free agency as a 38-year-old after finishing off a seven-year, $130 million deal with the Rangers. The free-agent market has not been kind to 38-year-old free agents, especially after down years. So, why would the Giants even consider reignite interest?
In 2020, Choo slashed a .236/.323/.400 line (96 OPS+) with five home runs, including a titanic blast against the Giants, and 15 RBI:
The surface-level stats suggest this was a down year for Choo, but the underlying numbers tell a different story. He finished the year with an even 90-MPH average exit velocity and an 11.4-degree launch angle, with the latter being the best mark of his career.
On top of this, he generated a 10.1 percent barrel rate, which is the second-best mark of his career.
From a Statcast standpoint, the left-handed bat still consistently made quality contact, but it looks like he did not find enough outfield grass.
The fact that he finished the season with a .284 BABIP could mean a lot of things, but especially in a shortened season, it could have just been poor luck.
How Choo could Become an SF Giants Target
Now, let’s return to that “square peg in a round hole” idea as that is exactly what Choo would represent for the Giants. The Giants have not been aggressive spenders on the free-agent market. Rather, they like to wait out the market to try and find good value deals (For example, Wilmer Flores). Essentially, they are the last to leave the bar on a Saturday night.
I can see a situation where Choo would become a good fit for the Giants. If MLB confirms that the DH is returning to the National League in 2021, and Choo’s market does not materialize while San Francisco still needs a left-handed bat, then there might be a fit.
That is a very niche proposition, but when teams express interest in a player and a deal does not get done, it does not mean the interest has disappeared. The Giants could reignite their interest in Choo, who is a DH-only at this stage in his career, if it becomes a sensible match.
A lot of balls have to fall into place for this to happen, but Choo has expressed interest in playing in 2021, and will likely only be in the market for a low-value, perhaps non-guaranteed, deal. This is the area of the market the Giants shop in, and the two could match-up for a deal later this offseason.