ARLINGTON -- Shin-Soo Choo has two reasons to feel good about his 2019 season.
No. 1, he led the Rangers with 151 games played even though he turned 37 in July and was the oldest player on the team. Secondly, nobody really seemed to make a big deal out of Choo being the oldest player on the team. There were far more discussions about how age might be affecting Hunter Pence and Jeff Mathis, and both are younger than Choo.
Choo? Business as usual.
“I watch Choo work out and I see him run every day, sometimes I forget he’s that old,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “He carries himself like a younger guy as far as how he prepares and how he works. He never carries that, ‘Oh man today I feel old.' I have never heard him make that comment. Choo just makes me feel he’s younger.”
Choo said he likes hearing that.
“At my age, it’s hard to play over 150 games,” Choo said. “I played a lot, not just DH, but I played in the field. I look at everything and it’s not a great season, but I can give myself credit for a healthy year. That for me was really big, especially at my age. It’s hard to get a job at my age.”
Choo still has a job. He is going into the final season of the seven-year, $130 million contract, which he agreed to in December of 2013. How that final season will play out both next year and beyond is a bit murky, but that has seemed to be the case almost from the moment Choo signed the original deal.
There were times when it seemed like the contract was one the Rangers would regret. But for the most part, Choo performed pretty much the way the Rangers should have expected in their initial desire to add a player who could combine speed, power and on-base ability into one attractive package.
In leading the Rangers in games played last season, Choo hit .265 with 93 runs scored, 24 home runs, 61 RBIs and 15 stolen bases, batting mainly in the leadoff spot. He had a .371 on-base percentage and a .455 slugging percentage.
For those scoring at home, that gave Choo an .826 OPS. His career OPS just happens to be .826 as well.
“People talk about numbers, some people like average, some people like on-base percentage,” Choo said. “Honestly, I look at my numbers, I don’t pick any one thing. I know I am better than my numbers show. I look at my numbers and I can’t pick anything because I know I am better than that.”
So now Choo is a part of a five-player logjam for three outfield spots and designated hitter. The others include left-handed-hitting corner outfielders Joey Gallo, Willie Calhoun and Nomar Mazara. There is also Delino DeShields, a right-handed hitter and the best center fielder of the bunch. Throw in utility player Danny Santana and it really gets complicated.
Perhaps the best solution for the Rangers may be finding someone interested in Choo, but that may be tough considering he is making $21 million and is possibly best suited for designated hitter.
“I’m not really thinking about it,” Choo said. “The next year I’m going to do the same thing, prepare for each game. Whatever happens this offseason or next offseason, I have played long enough in this game, it’s not really helpful when you start thinking about what’s going on next year. I don’t know if it will be a good season or bad season, but I know I can still do it.”
What went right:
Besides putting up the offensive numbers, Choo showed he can still play the outfield. His ability to do so allowed the Rangers to get Pence in the lineup at designated hitter when he got hot earlier and to use Nick Solak more at that spot in September.
“I kept working on the outfield,” Choo said. “I’m still not ready to be a full-time DH yet. I can still play the field. I don’t know about next year, but I still have confidence I can go out there and help them.”
What went wrong:
Choo had minor surgery to clean out his left shoulder after the season. He is expected to be ready for Spring Training without any issues.
“He’s a guy you can count on every day,” Woodward said. “He wants to be in there every single day. He is not going to play every single day, but he says I’ll be ready every single day. That’s a good message to our younger guys. We tell players you have to earn it every single day and he’s like the epitome of that belief. He’s always scared there is somebody chasing him and will take his job.”
Choo hit is 200th career home run on June 4 against the Orioles. He also became he the first Rangers player to lead a game off with a home run on his birthday when he did so on July 13 against the Astros. His 24 home runs marked a career-high.
Choo’s outlook is the same that it has been through the course of his contract. He is a left-handed-hitting outfielder who can fit anywhere in a lineup with the ability to hit for power and get on base. He is not as young as he used to be, but Choo continues to prove he can be an everyday player on a championship team.
It's up to the Rangers to decide where that fits on next year’s team.
“I don’t know about next year, but we are not that far,” Choo said. “We are very close to a winning season, if we can add a couple of players and everybody stay healthy, we have a great chance to have a winning season.”