Scott Boras might have finally screwed one up, and the Texas Rangers are all the better for it.
Shin-Soo Choo was at the top of the list for the New York Yankees a few weeks ago, following New York's decision to sign fellow Boras client Jacoby Ellsbury to his seven-year, $153 million deal. However, the Yankees-Choo deal eventually fell apart over what's now being reported as a mere -- "mere" -- $3 million. When the Yankees agreed to a seven-year, $140 million contract and Boras came back to ask for seven years, $143 million, New York pulled its offer from the table, turned around and signed Carlos Beltran for three years, $45 million, leaving Choo to sign with Texas for seven years, $130 million. We don't know at this point whether or not that decision was made by general manager Brian Cashman, team president Randy Levine or someone in ownership, but only one of them has been spending the offseason flitting about the New York press giving on-the-record quotes whose tone swings wildly between "smug puppetmaster" and "jilted lover." Whoever was ultimately responsible for making that decision, the Yankees' loss is the Rangers' gain -- at least for now.
The biggest issue with Texas last year was its anemic lineup, and the Rangers have gone a long way toward fixing that by signing Choo after acquiring Prince Fielder last month. There are still some likely black holes in the offense: Mitch Moreland is probably going to get more at-bats than a team with World Series aspirations should be giving Mitch Moreland; Geovany Soto's offensive profile is a rollercoaster ride of inconsistent ups and downs, and last year was an up; and as an every-day centerfielder, Leonys Martin doesn't inspire much confidence at the plate, especially now that his platoon partner Craig Gentry is gone to Oakland. The piece that the Rangers got back in that deal, Michael Choice, was once projected as having the ability to play all three outfield positions, but is more of a corner outfielder now. If Martin bombs out heavily and Choice's change in scenery leads to him finally playing up to his potential, it's possible that either he could get another shot at the centerfield job or that either Choo and Alex Rios -- both former centerfielders themselves -- could slide over to pick up the slack. However, the Texas organization has a long history of giving young prospects they like a whole lot of leash before pulling the plug, and even if Martin does stumble, the Rangers have Engel Beltre, another young, speedy, light-hitting centerfielder with a whole lot of organizational enthusiasm behind him, waiting in the wings.
But with a core of Choo, Fielder and that other Beltre who plays in Texas -- complemented by Rios and optimistically Jurickson Profar, who at least has the talent to step in and replace Ian Kinsler's recent production at second base -- the Rangers have had the offseason they needed to stay on pace with the Oakland Athletics and keep the Angels and Mariners safely battling for third place, at least on paper. It's not entirely clear how much money the Rangers have left to spend, if any -- Texas is getting a payday from the new national TV deal like every other team in the league, and its own local TV deal is kicking in as well -- but the team is good enough right now that the Rangers can afford to sit back and wait on guys like Nelson Cruz and Matt Garza.
All that said, the Choo contract is not one that's going to age particularly well; Choo has massive splits that will relegate him to a platoon role rather quickly once his overall production starts to decline -- a career .250-point OPS platoon split is fine when the bad split (vs. LHP) is .680, which is about what your average shortstop hits for his overall line. When that eventually ticks down into the .450- to .550-OPS range -- and it will (last season Choo's OPS against lefties was only .612) -- the Rangers will have to find a lefty-masher like Jeff Baker to complement Choo; in fact, it wouldn't be shocking if the Rangers brought Baker back to do just that, assuming he doesn't catch on with a team like the Yankees looking to throw as many infielders as they can at the wall in spring training to see what sticks.
Choo is only 31 years old, however, and it should be some time before his skills decline to the point where a dedicated platoon partner is needed. The Rangers are in the middle of a contention cycle -- though perhaps not as strong a contention cycle as they were in three to four years ago -- and need him to produce now, and Choo is certainly capable of that. Despite the slight dings on the contract on both sides -- Boras leaving a bit of money on the table in New York and the Rangers signing a player who will likely age poorly over the seven years -- both Choo and the Rangers nicely wrapped up their major offseason business just in time for the holidays.