The Yankees have agreed to a minor league contract with free-agent first baseman/outfielder Ji-Man Choi, his agency in Korea told Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency (h/t: Dan Kurtz of MyKBO.net, on Twitter). Choi will be invited to Major League Spring Training and will compete for a roster spot. If he makes the big league club, he’ll earn a $700K base salary.
Choi’s representatives tell Yoo that he also received offers from 10 clubs, including the Brewers, Reds and Cardinals, but elected to sign with the Yankees, who had showed interest in Choi last offseason. Mark Teixeira’s retirement and the ability to compete for at-bats at first base factored into the decision, Yoo writes. As it stands, the Yankees have Greg Bird and Tyler Austin slated to compete for playing time in Teixeira’s absence.
Choi, 26 in May, spent the 2016 campaign in the Angels organization and struggled in his Major League debut, hitting .170/.271/.339 with five home runs in 129 plate appearances. He was designated for assignment when the Angels inked Ben Revere to a one-year contract. Rather than accepting his assignment, Choi opted to elect free agency.
Despite his lackluster bottom-line production in the Majors, Choi did walk in more than 12 percent of his plate appearances while showing respectable pop, and his 21 percent strikeout rate wasn’t outlandishly high. He’ll bring to the Yankees a lifetime .304/.399/.446 batting line and 13 home runs in 627 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. He may have a hard time beating out Bird and Austin, both of whom are already on the 40-man roster, but the Yankees could theoretically give Choi a bench job and send one of Bird or Austin to the minors to get everyday at-bats early in the season in the event that one of the two struggles in Spring Training.
Bird missed the entire 2016 season due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. Austin, meanwhile, batted .294/.392/.524 with 17 homers between Double-A and Triple-A before making his MLB debut last year. In 90 PAs with the Yankees, he hit .241/.300/.458 with five homers. Both players have minor league options remaining.