CINCINNATI - Goodbye, Drew. Hello, Choo.
Just when the lead-off hitter market in the majors was getting slim, Cincinnati Reds general manager Walt Jocketty worked his MLB magic again to acquire Cleveland Indians center fielder Shin-Soo Choo to fill the only hole in the Reds' lineup in a nine-player, three-team trade.
While it might take Reds fans a while to get his name down, it won't take Choo long to get acclimated as the team's new leadoff hitter.
But before fans start washing their hands of Drew Stubbs and claiming "good riddance," don't forget what good home-grown talent Stubbs was and some of the great things he helped the Reds accomplish over the past three years, including two NL Central titles.
Okay, that's enough time remembering Stubbs.
To the future: Who is Shin-Soo Choo? A perfect fit for the Reds to have in the No. 1 spot in the lineup. At least for next year.
The Pros of the Trade
Choo has a good eye at the plate and a higher career on-base percentage (.381) than anyone on the Cincinnati roster, with the exception of Joey Votto. That makes him ripe to set the table for the power-heavy Reds middle-lineup.
Choo also has some pop in his bat (16 HR last year and a career .465 slugging percentage), and the move from Progressive Field in Cleveland (a longer ballpark with higher walls) to Great American Ball Park will only see his home run and extra-base hit numbers rise.
He also possesses just the right amount of speed to cover ground in center field and to keep pitchers checking on him (21 stolen bases last year). Choo won't hold a candle to what Stubbs could do on the base-path, but the Reds have proven their ability to win games without a huge stolen base threat. On the flip-side, Choo will be able to get hustle runs going from first-to-third and ensuring RBI singles when he is on second just as well as Stubbs would, which was the Reds' bread and butter last year. Thinking long-term, Billy Hamilton (who set the minor league record for stolen bases in a year at AA last year) will eventually sport a Reds uniform, and will be able to step in when the team needs a late-game stolen base.
The Cons of the Deal
The Reds did lose Didi Gregorious in the trade, a home-grown Reds prospect who has been described as a "young Derek Jeter." He was a great utility asset and losing him is definitely a blow to the Reds' prospect list of hitting infielders, but with the Reds strong, young infield, he wasn't likely to see significant playing time in the near future at the major league level anyway.
Choo's contract expires this year, and that could potentially lead to a short-lived solution for the Reds. He made just under $5 million last year, and will likely be looking for more if he is to continue to be the chief lead-off man in Cincinnati, especially at 30 years of age. The Reds have a lot of long-term contracts on their books in the next few years, and re-signing Choo for anything longer than a year or two for anything more than $5 million a year will get taxing on the team's financial flexibility.
Usually players excel on the field in a contract year, but Choo has had attitude problems off-the-field in the past; specifically he requested to get out of Cleveland. If he brings even a little bit of that to the Reds' clubhouse, it could disrupt the very fluent team chemistry the Reds possess. Choo was also recently arrested on a DUI charge in May 2011. Off-the-field distractions have been kept to a minimum in Cincinnati (at least in the baseball realm of things), save for Mike Leake's T-shirt incident, which was really more comical than distracting, and the Reds have ridden their on-the-field focus to success. This team has been good in the past few years because of that chemistry and willingness to play for their fellow man, and the Reds wouldn't want to see that change, especially riding such an emotional low from 2012's finish.
The Tipping Points
No Reds fan was doubting Chris Heisey's ability to take over full time in center field, but trading for Choo not only gives the Redlegs a prototypical lead-off man, but also great depth in the outfield. Having Heisey in the back pocket in case of injuries or needed rest doesn't set the team back at all from the starting three.
Choo is a left-handed hitter, which the Reds desperately needed in the lineup other than Votto and Bruce. Hitting from that side of the plate not only gives the Reds a better variance and advantage against any given pitcher, but being able to mix in the right-handed Heisey when Dusty Baker thinks Choo's pull-hitting style might struggle against left-handed pitchers covers the Reds through all 162 games.
But baseball will always come back to the cliché of staying healthy, and Choo has had his share of problems staying 100 percent. His 2011 was cut short by a thumb fracture and back problems, and prior to that he had Tommy John surgery in 2007. If he gets hurt at any point this season, that may be the catalyst for the Reds to see another Ryan Madson situation play out where the team would have paid for Choo to get treatment from the medical staff without striking a longer-term deal, putting the leadoff situation right back to square one.
Bottom line: A healthy Choo = A Reds October.
Reds fans should be excited this deal was made, at least for 2013.
And in addition to the "Bruuuuuce" and "Woooooo!" chants at GABP, welcome in the new chant "Chooooooo!" I think that's a record for most "oooo" sounds per lineup in the MLB...
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