Shin-Soo Choo is the most desirable free agent available for most teams, but his market appears to have two "lead dogs," as a source tells Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
Texas' interest has fluctuated considerably according to rumors about a potential Choo signing. Like any team, they could use an on-base expert at the top of the order -- and that's a pretty good way to describe Choo, who finished second in the National League in OBP last year (.423).
If the Rangers are able to reel him in, they could avoid a reunion with outfielder Nelson Cruz, a signing many Ranger fans would like to see their team avoid. Cruz is said to be looking for a multi-year deal worth a little under $20 million per season. For a player that has been worth a fraction of the value that Choo brings to the table, it's pretty easy to understand why signing him over Cruz is preferable.
Choo will command more of a commitment than Cruz in terms of years and dollars, perhaps something in the range of 7-years and $140 million. On the other hand, he's outproduced Cruz over the last two years at a rate of nearly 3-to-1 (7.6 fWAR to 2.6 fWAR).
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The Mariners' outfield stands to lose Raul Ibanez in addition to having traded Michael Morse to the Orioles in August.
Jason Bay is also likely to move on from the club, as he's fielding offers to play internationally.
Dustin Ackley played nearly 500 innings in the outfield for the Mariners last year, but his name has popped up in trade rumors recently, so he might not be an option in 2014 either.
Franklin Gutierrez is a free agent this winter as well. That leaves Michael Saunders as the most likely 2013 outfielder to return next season.
The M's could look to their farm system for replacements or players with marginal major-league experience like Xavier Avery (acquired in the Morse trade), Carlos Peguero, and/or Abraham Almonte.
The sentiment in Seattle is that the club needs to do more than simply sign the best free agent on the market. In order to improve enough to compete with the A's and Rangers in the sturdy AL West, the club might feel they need to make another bold move to bolster their outfield. Whether that means signing Choo to another huge contract or shopping an infield prospect like Nick Franklin for an outfielder remains to be seen.
In signing Cano -- and all the baggage that comes with such a monolithic contract, the Mariners have made a statement that they intend to compete as soon as possible. Making Choo a Mariner would further that notion, but would also add to the team's waning future payroll flexibility.
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