Shin-Soo Choo is embarking on his fourth season with the Texas Rangers, and that seems a little bit hard to believe.
But it’s true that he was signed in December 2013 to a seven-year deal and has entered each of the past three seasons thought to be a key piece to the Rangers’ success.
The same holds true again for 2017.
Yet, in the past three seasons Choo has played only 320 of the possible 486 games. He has been on the disabled list five times, four of them coming last season. In hindsight, he said he should have gone on the disabled list another time in 2014.
Instead, he played hurt, and his numbers took a beating. So did he in light of his $130 million contract, which many critics have called one of the worst contracts in baseball.
The Rangers, meanwhile, are committed to doing whatever necessary to keep him in the lineup. They still believe that Choo is what makes their offense reach its potential.
“I like that people trust you and know about who you are,” Choo said. “When I’m in the lineup, I believe and I trust in myself that I can be a lot of help for the batting order and help the team.”
Choo has been that player in spurts the past three seasons, most notably in September 2015. He was the first MLB player since Hall of Famer Willie Mays in 1958 to finish the month of September as the MLB leader in average (.404), on-base percentage (.515), hits (42) and runs (26).
Even in 2014 — a season in which he batted only .242, finished on the disabled list and needed surgery on his left ankle and left elbow — Choo was one of the league’s top hitters over the first six weeks.
After his 28th game May 7, he was batting .370 with a .500 on-base percentage and .554 slugging percentage.
That’s the player he can be.
“Unfortunately, the last couple years he’s been bothered by injuries and hasn’t been on the field enough,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “We all know in this clubhouse what he can do. When you have some injuries and you miss a lot of games and you come back not 100 percent, sometimes you can’t show your potential.”
Coming off his hot second half in 2015, Choo came to the Surprise Recreation Campus healthy and with high expectations in 2016. He lasted five games before pulling his right calf muscle during batting practice in Anaheim, and then lasted three innings in his first game off the disabled list because of a strained left hamstring.
Choo returned but found the DL again because of a lower back issue. Then in August he was struck by a pitch that fractured his left forearm.
The only expectation he has for 2017 is to stay healthy. He will end up serving as designated hitter, though manager Jeff Banister said that no number of games has been put on his DH time.
The Rangers, though, say that they were searching for someone to play left field regularly, presumably with Nomar Mazara in right field and Choo at DH.
Choo understands that if he’s healthy, he can show that he’s the caliber of player that convinced the Rangers to give him a nine-figure deal before the 2014 season.
“I know I can do it,” said Choo, a career .280 hitter with a .381 OBP. “If I have 500 at-bats and play 140-145 games, my numbers are always there. I’m not worried about numbers.”