MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers

Most free agent choices aren’t actually choices at all. Rarely is a bidding team in on more than one player of the same position, it seems to me. They might inquire on more than one guy but generally seem to settle into on a particular player, for whatever reason.

The 2013 feeding frenzy season is upon us. None of the big fish are in the boat yet, all the teams angling (!) for an upgrade have some interesting choices to make.

Say you’re in the market for a corner outfielder. There are some nice names to pick through. Somebody is going to throw a whole pile of money at a player who might not deliver on their promise. Somebody else might make a nice little value pick up at a fraction of the cost. Turns out the two players are more similar than it seems.

Rather than play the cheap Player A/Player B game, let’s put all our cards on the table. Shin-Soo Choo is a really good baseball player and free agent. Curtis Granderson is also a good baseball player and free agent. The Reds extended Choo a qualifying offer without much thought, as Choo is going to get PAID.

Choo posted the second highest on base percentage in the National League in 2013, a sky-high .423 powered by patience and a few extra hit by pitches. His power numbers aren’t what they once were but his first season in Cincinnatti was a great one, worth 5 Wins as the everyday center fielder for the Reds.

Curtis Granderson, meanwhile, suffered through an injury-plagued and generally awful season. He played in just 60-odd games and posted career worst numbers across the board. He did not look like slugger he became during his tenure in New York. That Granderson received a qualifying offer was something of a surprise, given the serious doubts regarding his ability to garner a multi-year deal on the free agent market.

Choo hit the FA playing field at full speed while Granderson limps toward potential suitors. But 2013 is not the final word on either of these players. While Choo might entertain nine-digit contract offers, Curtis Granderson just might be a better value.

When I think about Curtis Granderson, the name that keeps coming to mind is Shane Victorino. They aren’t the same style of player but I feel like Granderson can offer the same sort of immediate value in a bounce back season, just as the Flyin’ Hawaiian did for the World Series champs.

Granderson’s injuries in 2013 were of the freakish nature – hit by a pitch in Spring Training that all but undid his season from the start. The Yankees outfielder returned in May…only to go down for another two months with broken knuckle after being hit by another pitch! Provided these freak breaks healed properly, there is nothing to suggest Granderson won’t be back swinging the bat effectively in 2014.

Like Victorino, Granderson is a center fielder better suited to a corner role at this point of his career, as Jack Moore suggested this week. The Yankees planned to move Granderson to left field, using glove-first fly catcher Brett Gardner in center.

A move to left or right field might hurt his positional value but the 32-year old will benefit from a lessened defensive role. The opposite of Choo’s situation, as the Reds forced Choo into center field for a year. The experiment wasn’t a disaster as I don’t recall any deaths in the Great American Ballpark’s outer reaches but Choo is nobody’s center fielder. Strong accurate arm as Choo possess, his defense in right field was in decline before the switch to center.

They are different types of hitters, as well. Both men possess uncanny patience, drawing walks well above league average. Choo hits for a higher average, spraying the ball around the field. Granderson’s move to Yankee Stadium cemented him as a dead pull power hitter, yanking balls down the line into the short porch at the new Yankee Stadium.

choo granderson

Potential suitors will be keenly aware of the platoon shortcomings of both players. Granderson’s splits are much more even while Choo dominates right-handed pitching but struggles mightily against lefties.

If push came to shove, I can’t help but think Curtis Granderson might be the better value signing. His power is easy to overlook, but the man hit 40+ home runs in back to back seasons. He is one of only a dozen players to hit more than 90 home runs since the start of the 2011 season.

It will be very interesting to see how the free agent market values these two players. Their complete bodies of work suggest two hitters who go about their business in very different ways but whose production is more similar than we realize. A smart team with an immediate need might grab Curtis Granderson and find themselves with a productive player at a decent price.