Rangers introduce prized free agent Choo
Washington eager to showcase versatility of new leadoff hitter, left fielder
ARLINGTON -- This is the player the Rangers wanted from the beginning of the offseason, and this is where Shin-Soo Choo wanted to be.
After all the negotiations, phone calls and public posturing, what both sides extolled as the "perfect fit" was officially announced on Friday at the Ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers have signed Choo to a seven-year, $130 million contract to be their leadoff hitter and left fielder.
"The first thing I was looking for was a winning team," Choo said. "That was most important. Then I thought about my family and how comfortable was the city, the Korean community. Everything came together. The Texas Rangers were the best fit for me. It was very easy to pick this team."
Choo, who is from South Korea, was presented with a Rangers jersey by general manager Jon Daniels and given the No. 17. That was the uniform worn by Nelson Cruz during his time with the Rangers. Cruz remains a free agent but is expected to sign elsewhere. The Rangers had conversations with Cruz's agent, Adam Katz, but after acquiring first baseman Prince Fielder from the Tigers for second baseman Ian Kinsler, they were clearly pushing hard for Choo.
"We talked early on about remaking our offense in personality and style, both in the short-term and the long-term, with the goal of winning the World Series and being there every year," Daniels said. "We feel we've added two impact players to our lineup. We feel good about what we've been able to accomplish.
"Choo was the perfect fit. His skill set and personality, his goals and desires, lines up with what our club needs. If you look at his performance over the last few years, he's one of the most productive offensive players in the game. We get a sense he is truly driven."
The Rangers were especially attracted to Choo's ability to get on base and score runs. That's why manager Ron Washington has already anointed him as the Rangers' leadoff hitter. Choo had a .423 on-base percentage this past season with 112 walks and 107 runs scored for the Reds.
Over the past six years with the Indians and the Reds, Choo ranks eighth among all Major League players with a .392 on-base percentage and 13th with 426 walks. He also doesn't lack for power. Choo has a career .465 slugging percentage and has averaged 37 doubles, four triples and 20 home runs for every 162 games played. He also has 96 stolen bases over the past five years.
Choo will strike out, and he has struggled against left-handed pitching. Choo struck out 133 times in 2013 and he hit just .215 against left-handers with a .265 slugging percentage. Maybe that's why Daniels said the Rangers are still looking for a right-handed bat for their bench before the offseason is over.
Choo, 31, also needs to be healthy. He has been on the disabled list four times in the past six years with a variety of injuries. But he played in 155 games for the Indians in 2012 and 154 after being traded to the Reds this past season.
Choo, who was originally signed by the Mariners before being traded to Cleveland on July 26, 2006, played center field for the Reds after being used mainly in right field for the Indians, who dealt Choo to Cincy last offseason. The Rangers plan on using him in left field with Leonys Martin in center and Alex Rios in right.
"I'm not going to try and do too much," Choo said. "Sometimes players try too hard and make it worse. I want to focus on my body, stay healthy and play every day. If I play every day, something good will happen."
Daniels and Choo's agent, Scott Boras, first spoke at the General Manager's Meetings in Florida in mid-November. One week later, Choo's interest in the Rangers increased when they acquired Fielder from the Tigers while giving up their leadoff hitter in Kinsler.
"When they got Prince, it was like setting a match to gasoline," Boras said.
The Rangers went after Choo with the full support of co-owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson.
"We do have a great organization, and we support them," Simpson said. "They go through their ideas for the offseason, and we've been able to implement their two favorite ideas. So once they had Prince, we had several meetings and their No. 1 pick was Choo."
Daniels and Washington were among the Rangers officials who met with Boras in California on Dec. 3. The discussions continued through the Winter Meetings in Florida earlier this month and a deal was completed on Saturday. Choo passed his physical on Tuesday.
"The hardest part was the level of interest and the number of teams that were interested," Boras said. "His skill set fits a lot of teams. There were a lot of clubs interested, and we had to filter through a lot of information. But Texas had all the components that he hoped for in a winning organization."
"Today is a special day for me," Choo said. "Thirteen years ago, I was an 18-year-old kid who didn't know anything. I came here to play baseball and worked really hard. Today is my dream come true. My next dream is to win the World Series."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.