8:29pm: Jeeho Yoo of Yonhap News reports that Choo told Korean media last week that he trying to decide whether to return to KBO or retire. He also adds that Choo is not a free agent and hasn’t told the Landers about any intention of returning to MLB.
6:55pm: After sixteen seasons in the major leagues, Shin-soo Choo returned to his native South Korea in February. The former All-Star signed a one-year, $2.4MM contract with the KBO’s SSG Landers, telling reporters at the time that he turned down bigger offers from MLB teams to have an opportunity to play in front of his family.
That seemed likely to close the book on Choo’s playing career in the United States, but that may not necessarily be the case. Choo is hoping to sign a major league contract this offseason, reports Alex Speier of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). He’s already fielded interest from teams on minor league offers, but Speier adds that he isn’t expected to leave the KBO unless he receives a guaranteed big league deal.
Choo is coming off a strong showing with the Landers. Across 580 trips to the plate, he hit .265/.409/.451 with 21 home runs. The fantastic plate discipline that Choo annually demonstrated in the majors carried over into his new environment, as he walked at a massive 17.9% clip against a 21.2% strikeout rate. Choo’s .860 OPS ranked twelfth among the 74 hitters with 300+ KBO plate appearances.
Whether that’ll be enough to earn Choo a major league job remains to be seen. The 39-year-old had hit at a slightly above-average level for much of his tenure with the Rangers, but he became increasingly strikeout-prone towards the end of his big league career. He’s also limited to the corner outfield, where defensive metrics have pegged him as a well below-average defender for years. The potential introduction of the designated hitter to the National League in collective bargaining talks could expand Choo’s market a bit, but most teams have preferred to cycle multiple players through that spot rather than commit anyone there in an everyday capacity. Clubs have made exceptions for elite bats like Nelson Cruz and J.D. Martinez, but Choo’s offensive numbers later in his career have been more solid than great.