One of the popular outfielders on the trade market this offseason not named Justin Upton has been Shin-Soo Choo. The five-tool star has spent most of his career with the Cleveland Indians, but, as a Scott Boras client, he is all but certain to test free agency when his contract expires after the 2013 season. So, feeling that it was unlikely they would be able to sign him to a new deal, Cleveland management pulled the trigger on a 3-team trade with the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks and sent Choo to Cincinnati.
The 30-year-old Choo has been among the steadiest, and most underrated, outfielders in baseball over the last several years and his ability to hit for average and power, while still posing a threat for steals, is rivaled by few in baseball. Just last year, he and Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers were the only players in the Majors with 15 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and 40 doubles. He is a career .289 hitter during his eight seasons with the Indians and Seattle Mariners and has topped .300 three times. Most impressive, though, is his ability to get on base. He has a very strong .381 lifetime on base percentage and has finished in the top ten in the American League in three of the last four years.
This trade will help the Reds in two areas they were in need of upgrading: a leadoff hitter and center fielder. Choo spent the majority of last season at the top of the Indians’ lineup and, with his average and on base percentage, he will be exactly what the Reds need. Cincinnati’s leadoff hitters were the worst in their lineup outside of the pitchers in the ninth spot. Their number one batters hit a paltry .208 with just a .254 OBP. Not at all what’s needed from the table-setter. In addition, Choo will fill the hole in center field. Though he’s been a right fielder for most of his career, the Reds believe he will be able to shift to center, where he’s only played 10 games, with little trouble.
Acquiring Choo didn’t come cheaply for the Reds, though. They dealt away Drew Stubbs, who has been their everyday center fielder for the better part of the last four years, and 22-year-old shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius. The 28-year-old Stubbs is a career .241 hitter who strikes out a lot, but has some pop in his bat and speed, having stolen at least 30 bases in each of the last three years. He will head to Cleveland to replace Choo, while Gregorius heads to Arizona, giving the Diamondbacks the shortstop of the future they’ve wanted to find this offseason.
Gregorius is not a huge offensive threat, batting just .271 in five minor league seasons with little power or speed, though he did hit .300 in eight games with the Reds. He is widely regarded as a very strong defensive player whose offense could improve with more development. He’ll likely compete for the starting job in Arizona in Spring Training. His arrival also impacts the future of Justin Upton as the Diamondbacks will no longer need to receive a shortstop in any potential deal for the outfielder, as they’ve been asking, giving them more options for trade partners.
The Diamondbacks didn’t get out of this deal cheaply either. They had to part with top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer, who is heading to Cleveland. The 22-year-old was the third overall pick in the 2011 draft and did reach the Majors last season. He made four starts with the Diamondbacks, posting a 1-2 record with a 6.06 ERA. He has fared much better in the minors, where he is 13-4 with a 3.00 ERA across all levels and averages a very impressive 11.5 strikeouts-per-9 innings. He may still need more time in the minors before making the Indians’ rotation.
Cleveland’s haul didn’t stop there, though. The team also picked up some bullpen help with Matt Albers, reunited with manager Terry Francona from their time in Boston, and Bryan Shaw. Albers, who turns 30 in January, is coming off a season in which he posted a combined 2.39 ERA with Arizona and Boston, while Shaw is 2-6 with a 3.18 ERA in two seasons and is still just 24. They will help replace lefty Tony Sipp, who will also join the Diamondbacks. The 29-year-old is 11-7 with a 3.68 ERA during his four year career. First baseman Lars Anderson will also move from Cleveland to Phoenix. He was once a top prospect in the Red Sox organization, but has struggled in the minors over the last few years.