New York is Choo’s kind of townNo matter how exciting the World Series is, Korean fans’ interests are on 31-year-old outfielder Choo Shin-soo, who will be a free agent in the upcoming hot stove season. Along with Choo, other big-name Korean players, such as Kia Tigers ace pitcher Yoon Suk-min and Samsung Lions closer Oh Seung-hwan, are knocking on the door of the big leagues. Starting with Choo, in the next few columns, the Korea JoongAng Daily will take a look at Korean stars trying to play in Major League Baseball.
During the regular season, the San Francisco Giants signed a five-year, $90 million contract with their veteran right fielder, Hunter Pence. After this contract, local U.S. media began speculating about Choo’s final destination. Most stories picked Choo as one of the top three free agents, along with New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and predicted that Choo would receive a contract similar to Pence’s - or one that totals over $100 million.
When he met with Korean reporters after the season, Choo mentioned some conditions he will consider when picking teams. He said that he wants to play on a big-market team where a large Korean community exists and one that can contend for the World Series.
I can think of only one team that meets his conditions - the New York Yankees.
The Yankees failed to advance to the postseason and are watching their biggest rival, the Red Sox, play in the World Series. And this offseason will bring many changes for the team as veteran closer Mariano Rivera has retired and the contracts of Andy Pettitte, Cano, Hiroki Kuroda, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, and Phil Hughes expired, reducing the team’s current $228 million payroll to less than $100 million.
Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner and Suzuki Ichiro are available options for now in the outfield, but none of them can do a better job than Choo as the leadoff hitter and at a corner. Choo hit .285 with a .423 OBP this season, and his average OBP in last six seasons was .392, the highest among big-league outfielders. In comparison, Ichiro hit .262 and his OBP was only .297 this season, the first season that it fell below .300. If the Yanks sign Choo he could play right field while Ichiro moves to left, with Gardner center and Soriano at DH.
Choo told Korean media that his offensive power will get better if he doesn’t play in center field, indicating that he prefers to be a corner outfielder. In addition, New York, like Los Angeles, is one of a few cities in the United States that has a large Korean community. Every time Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitched at Dodger Stadium, the home field was covered with advertisements paid for by Korean companies such as LG Electronics and Nexen Tire.
Local New York media reported that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is also interested in purchasing Kia Tigers ace Yoon and Lions closer Oh. The reports said the Yankees want Yoon to be one of their five starters and Oh to be their setup man. It would be exciting for Korean fans to watch more than one Korean player wear the pinstripes. When the Dodgers had a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds in July, the Dodgers showed off their marketing skills with Korean players. The Dodgers designated one of the three series games as Koreans’ Day, and when Ryu and Choo faced each other, 15,000 of the 56,000 seats were filled by Koreans. Korean rapper Psy and actor Song Seung-heon visited Dodger Stadium and the popular Korean girl group Girls’ Generation sang the national anthems of Korea and the United States.
It seems like New York is the best place for Choo. He can bring more runs, hits and fans for the Yanks. Local media said the New York Mets is also a potential bidder for Choo, but I can’t imagine Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, the person who developed the “Moneyball” theory, paying $100 million for one player.
BY KWON SANG-SOO [email@example.com]