You could make a legitimate case that Shin-Soo Choo was the most valuable player on the Cincinnati Reds roster in 2013. However, rewarding him with a multi-year contract at the peak of his career is not likely to end well for any organization who chooses to do so.
At age 31, and after spending nine seasons in the major leagues, only four of which he appeared in 95 games or more, Choo is set to score a lucrative deal in free agency. Not only did the Korean native prove he could play multiple outfield positions this year, an ability that many around baseball didn't think he had back in February, but he also proved to be one of the best leadoff hitters in the league.
By many accounts, the 2013 campaign marked a banner year for Choo. He ranked second in the National League in on-base percentage at .423, a career-high, and also produced a career-high with 107 runs scored, 21 home runs, 34 doubles, and 20 stolen bases. Oh, let us not forget his league-leading 26 hit-by-pitches this past year, either.
Now, with the help of super agent Scott Boras, Choo is primed to literally cash in on his past performance, as teams eagerly line up around the block to acquire his services, with the belief that he will produce many more seasons such as his last. The cold reality is that probability states he will not.
As much as it pains Reds fans to think about losing Choo, recent history suggests that letting him walk may not be the worst idea, especially in the long term. Many players have stood where Choo currently stands. Like Choo, each of them were established veterans in the prime of their careers, searching for that multi-year deal that would set them for life. Naturally, nearly all of them got it, suckering big market franchises like the Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers, among others, to pay for their past performance rather than their future.
Although the Reds are interested in bringing him back, and rightfully so, the cash-strapped franchise probably won't have the financial means to keep him around. Well, unless they can rid themselves of the financial burden ($50M) left on the the contract of Brandon Phillips. But even the money saved from a move like that may not be enough to outbid the likes of other big-market clubs.
The examples of such horrific contracts are evident and numerous, and feature both current and former players, including: Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Bobby Bonilla, Dan Uggla, Alex Rodriguez, Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, Barry Zito, and Andruw Jones, among many others. Do you think the Angels would like to go back in time and reconsider their 10-year contract offer to an aging Pujols? What about the Yankees and the controversial Rodriguez? Yeah, exactly.
To be fair, Choo isn't quite in the same category as most of the players listed above, but he is in a similar place where those players once stood. The point here is that baseball contracts longer than five years hardly ever pan out in favor of the team who agrees to them. Especially when those long-term deals are given to players entering the second halves of their careers. From a pure value standpoint, it makes absolutely no sense for any team to pull the trigger on such a deal, but teams like the Yankees and Dodgers do it anyway, probably for the simple fact that they can. Meanwhile, teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals employ a more effective and efficient strategy, out of necessity no less, which involves milking production from players before they earn their big pay day, as oppose to after.
With all of this being said, it is extremely likely that Choo will receive a contract in excess of $90 million over a multi-year span, and he might not ever live up to the expectations that come attached to such an overwhelming sum of money. It's nothing against Choo, but rather an observation derived from history. After all, even the best don't stay the best forever.
Could the Reds use Choo in center field and leadoff again in 2014? Absolutely. But with top prospect Billy Hamilton, a much more affordable option, pushing for playing time, coupled with the massive risk involved with committing that kind of money to a third player on the roster, for a team that isn't exactly rolling in the dough, the most logical choice for the Reds is to let Choo ride into the sunset, probably toward New York, Chicago, Detroit, or Houston.