Choo vows to live up to expectations

December 30, 2013
Texas Rangers’ newly-added hitter Choo Shin-soo answers questions from reporters at Incheon International Airport, Monday. Choo signed a  seven-year, $130 million contract to be the team’s leadoff hitter and left fielder. (Yonhap)

Texas Rangers’ newly-added hitter Choo Shin-soo answers questions from reporters at Incheon International Airport, Monday. Choo signed a seven-year, $130 million contract to be the team’s leadoff hitter and left fielder. (Yonhap)

By Jung Min-ho

Choo Shin-soo, who arrived in America as a scrawny teenage prospect from Busan, is now the living embodiment of the American dream.

He used to live off less than $2,000 a month as a minor leaguer until the mid-2000s. Now, after a career year with the Cincinnati Reds, Choo has landed a seven-year, $130 million contract with the Texas Rangers.

So when the new season starts this spring, the 31-year-old outfielder and on-base machine will feel the pressure to avoid the ”overpaid’’ label for the first time in his professional career.

While Choo has been one of the best leadoff hitters in the majors, some analysts have questioned whether the Rangers paid too much for a player who is already in his 30s and has struggled to hit left-handed pitchers.

Talking to journalists in Korea, Choo says he’s ready to prove the doubters wrong.

“I want people to remember me as a major-league player. No matter how much money I make, I’m the same Choo Shin-soo,” he told reporters at Incheon International Airport on Monday. “Of course, nothing would have been possible without the support of my family and fans.”

The leadoff hitter batted .285 with 21 home runs, 54 RBIs and 20 stolen bases for Cincinnati last season, and his .423 on-base percentage was the fourth-highest in the majors. Rangers manager Ron Washington said he plans to use Choo mostly as the team’s leadoff hitter and in left field.

Choo showed confidence, saying that he “would be fine with any position.” He noted that changing from right-fielder to centerfielder in 2012 was challenging, but coming back to a corner outfield position would be an easy adjustment. The deal gives Choo $14 million in each of the first two years, $20 million for the each of the following three years and $21 million in each of the last two seasons.

The versatile Choo still has great potential to grow further. While his ability to extend at-bats and draw walks is critical, Choo also shows good power numbers for a lead-off hitter and is a good base-stealer.

When asked why he chose the Rangers, he said he put the environment for his wife and two children before the teams’ chances of winning a World Series.

“I was looking for good clubs with the chance to win the series. But my priority was to find a place where my family can live comfortably. All things considered, I believed the Rangers were the best fit,” Choo said.

Choo believes playing most of the time was good for him, noting that will be an objective of his during his first year with Texas.

“I don’t mind about my personal record,” Choo said. “I will just keep myself in shape and condition for playing as many games as last season.”

Choo will wear 17, Nelson Cruz’s old jersey number on the team. Yu Darvish, one of the best pitchers of the league from Japan, will be a teammate.

“I’m glad that I play for the same team as Darvish, the best pitcher in the majors, so I won’t have to deal with his pitches,” Choo said. “I want to get close to him.”

When asked about the possibility of meeting compatriot pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, Choo said, “It would be a delight.”

“I would love to meet him there and compete,” Choo said. “If that happens, I will try my best to win.”

After spending time with his family and friends in Seoul, and meeting his Nike sponsors in Japan, Choo will leave for Texas on Jan. 12.