It's been a long time since the front office had so many holes to fill before Spring Training, especially offensively. The performance the lineup gave in September was flat-out embarrassing. The lineup will be improved compared to that display, but it's going to take some pieces. After the season ended, it was almost assumed that Cody Ross would be returning, and the team would only need to fill one outfield position this winter. However, this scenario is suddenly more unlikely when you consider how much money he's looking for, and the fact that he's being pursued by other teams.
Right now, the only starting outfielder who is under contract for next year is Jacoby Ellsbury, and this is assuming he is not dealt this offseason. Even if he does end up staying in Boston, he is still a big question mark, with regards to both health and expected performance. It would be nice to have a consistent force somewhere in this outfield, who could help an offense in need of it. This is where Shin-Soo Choo comes in. There have been reports that the team is unlikely to pursue a move to get Cleveland's right fielder, but I think that is a mistake if true. He could be the perfect player to take a risk on.
Though pitching was probably the biggest reason the team had as miserable a season as they did, their offense did not perform to the level we are used to either. The most glaring shortcoming of the lineup in 2012 was their inability to get on base. For years, this is the one quality every Red Sox lineup was praised for, and with good reason. Between 2004 and 2011, the team never finished below tenth in on-base percentage among all MLB teams, and only finished below second twice in that span. Then, in 2012, they fell all the way to 22nd in baseball, with a .315 OBP. This rate was definitely hindered by the offense's pathetic .267 clip in September, but it was a problem all year. When looking for guys to fill some of the holes on this roster, players who can get on-base at a high rate should be prioritized.
Getting on base just happens to be one of Choo's most valuable qualities. He has been an everyday player since 2009, but thumb and back injuries held him to just 85 games in 2011. In the three seasons in which he played a full slate of games, he had OBPs of .394, .401, and .373, respectively. Even in 2011, when he was struggling before his injury, he still got on base at a .344 clip. This quality is created by a combination of his ability to draw walks -- he's never had a season in which his walk-rate was in single-digits -- and converting balls in play into hits. In his three full seasons, his lowest batting average on balls in play is .347. While this seems like it could be a fluke, his batted ball profile* indicates that it shouldn't be so surprising. He has a career line-drive percentage of 22-percent, and hits fly balls just 32-percent of the time.
*Stats Via Fangraphs
Besides his ability to get on base, Choo also has shown durability throughout his career. If you take out his 2011 season, which was cut short mainly by a thumb injury that occurred after being hit by a pitch, he has played at least 144 games in each of his seasons as a full-time player. With Jacoby Ellsbury the only other returning player in the outfield, durability is a much-needed attribute.
In the article linked above, the reason Ben Cherington didn't want to pursue a trade was because it was too risky acquiring a player who was only under contract for one more year. On top of that, Choo is a Scott Boras client, so he'll likely carry a hefty price tag. However, they should rethink this, because it seems to me like it's a risk worth taking.
There are two ways it could work out if they traded for him. On the one hand, I am not convinced Choo would price himself out of Boston. If he came here and performed well enough to be deemed valuable enough to be re-signed, they should have the money to keep him. The only way they wouldn't is if they did something extremely drastic, which doesn't seem likely. Choo has also long been one of the more underrated players in the league. He has never been an All-Star, and his only time finishing on the MVP ballot (2010) he finished in 14th, without receiving a vote better than sixth. It may not mean a ton to GMs, but it would certainly help to have better accolades to take to the negotiating table.
The other scenario is that he plays in Boston and does end up being too expensive for Ben Cherington's liking. If he plays like he's capable of, he could be a big part of the Red Sox competing for a playoff spot. With the right moves this offseason, that's entirely possible. A strong season would be a huge boost for this franchise, and Choo could be a major help in reaching that level again. Then, because he was on the team for the entire season, Boston would be eligible to receive draft pick compensation after he signed elsewhere. It will cost talent to get him, but if he left there would still be a chance to get it back.
Obviously, the personnel they would have to give up to get a player like Choo could be a deterrent. If the Indians want one of the top prospects in the system, Cherington should walk away. However, if a deal could get done without any of the elite prospects, it would be a risk worth taking. Choo brings some of the qualities that are needed for this lineup to once again be among the elite. Fear of what happens after 2013 shouldn't be what holds this deal up.