As we near January, the market for Shin-Soo Choo has yet to heat up, with multiple clubs showing interest in the 31-year-old on-base machine, but none distancing themselves from the others. With top targets such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Robinson Cano off the board, Choo is clearly the best player still available, and it will likely only be a matter of time until he re-ups for a contract north of $100 million.
To put the Choo sweepstakes in perspective, let's take a look at each of his potential suitors.
To complicate matters further, the Mariners also just traded for Logan Morrison, who will likely be a part of a 2014 outfield trio also featuring Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley, with Justin Smoak and Corey Hart occupying the first base and designated hitter spots, respectively. While it is feasible that the club could look to package someone like Ackley with top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker and/or the recently displaced Nick Franklin to acquire a top-of-the-rotation arm such as David Price, chances are that Seattle goes with one of its in-house options rather than signing Choo.
Houston Astros: Of the names on this list, Houston might be the most unlikely to sign Choo considering they are coming off a 111-loss season and would probably be best served waiting 'til at least next offseason to begin signing major free agents to complement their young core that should begin to bear fruit next season. Payroll limitations and their reluctance to forfeit a draft pick also help make this fit seem unlikely.
Still, the Astros have been linked to Choo this winter, and could make a push for him were they to be able to get him for a relatively cheap price. If Choo's market continues to deplete, don't be surprised if Houston swoops in and signs him.
Choo was excellent for Cincinnati in 2013, hitting .285/.423/.462 with 21 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and a 143 OPS+. Ahead of Joey Votto, Choo gave the Reds a top-notch table-setter with a distinct talent for getting on-base. Alongside, Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick, Choo would help re-form one of the best offensive outfields in baseball.
Despite the obvious fit, the Reds seem to have already prepared themselves to watch Choo move on. With huge amounts of money already tied up in Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, the Reds just don't have the payroll flexibility to retain Choo, and though he may end up as a failure at the big league level, prospect Billy Hamilton is a reasonable replacement. Also, Bruce and Ludwick are corner outfielders, meaning Choo would have to play center field, a position he was particularly brutal at last year. Hamilton will no doubt be an upgrade defensively, and that at least helps to negate some of the loss of Choo's bat.
Detroit Tigers: With the excess money acquired when they dealt Prince Fielder, many expected the Tigers to make a run at Choo, but instead they have "splurged" on ninth-inning solution Joe Nathan and reserve outfielder Rajai Davis. They still have an apparent hole in left field where current incumbent Andy Dirks posted an OPS+ of just 86 last season, so the possibility of them signing Choo isn't entirely hopeless.
Texas Rangers: This is the most logical destination for Choo, since Texas has an obvious need for him and has money to spend. Texas clearly has interest in acquiring Choo, but right now it appears to be a matter of price.
Outside of Alex Rios and Leonys Martin, the Rangers don't have an obvious candidate for their final outfield spot. Recently acquired prospect Michael Choice could be a potential option, but it is unclear whether the Rangers view him as ready to hold down a starting job. They could also look to re-sign Nelson Cruz, as, unlike Choo, he wouldn't cost the club a draft pick.
Baltimore Orioles: If the Orioles want to compete in the ultra-competitive AL East next year, signing Choo would undoubtedly help their cause. For a team with a major need for OBP-oriented regulars, Choo would be a massive upgrade over Nolan Reimold, who hasn't played over 90 games since his rookie season in 2009, and even when healthy, his production is clearly negligible, as his -1.1 2013 WAR total would suggest. Baltimore's name has also been mentioned in conversations for recent big-name free agents, suggesting they could be willing to spend. Still, the Orioles are facing the possibility of Chris Davis and/or Matt Wieters entering free agency in a couple of years, meaning they could be strapped financially as they look to nail down extensions for the two.