The already crowded disabled list for the Texas Rangers needs to make room for one more major player. On Monday night, the team announced outfielder Shin-Soo Choo will miss the rest of the 2014 season with bone spurs in his left elbow. Choo, who has reportedly been dealing with the injury since spring training, will be placed on the disabled list and will likely have surgery on Friday.
The procedure will end a massively disappointing first season in Arlington for Choo, who signed a seven-year, $130 million deal with the Rangers in the offseason. The expectations were high for Choo, who was coming off one of the best seasons of his career with Cincinnati. The 32-year-old posted a 145 OPS+ with a career-best .423 on-base percentage, 21 home runs and 20 steals. With Texas, Choo was supposed to be the spark plug atop a dangerous Rangers lineup, setting the table for the likes of Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder and Alex Rios while playing top-flight defense in the outfield corners.
Initially, it looked like Choo was going to do just that, as he slashed .303/.433/.474 over the season's first month. But April would prove to be Choo's high point in 2014; his OPS dropped to .837 in May, then plummeted to .520 in June. Since the All-Star break, Choo has hit a meager .241/.282/.368 in 142 plate appearances, including a frightening 44:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. All told, he'll finish 2014 with a .242/.340/.374 line in 529 PA, with 13 homers, 40 RBI and three steals in seven chances.
For the Rangers, the hope has to be that Choo's bone spurs were the reason behind his underwhelming season and not the beginning of age-related decline. With Choo struggling and Elvis Andrus also performing below expectations, the top of Texas' lineup was a mess. On the season, Rangers' leadoff hitters put up a .703 OPS, 20th in baseball; from the No. 2 spot, that drops to .644, 24th overall. It's also worth wondering when the Rangers learned about Choo's condition. The Fort Worth Star Telegram's Jeff Wilson reported that Choo had been dealing with the bone spurs since spring training, but didn't say if Choo told the team at the time or if they knew about his injury in the spring.
With Choo now done for the year, he becomes the third player from Texas' Opening Day lineup to be lost for the season, joining Fielder and designated hitter Mitch Moreland. On top of that, Texas lost starting second baseman Jurickson Profar in spring training to what turned out to be a season-ending shoulder injury and got only 10 games out of projected starting catcher Geovany Soto, who missed several months with a knee injury and was traded to the Athletics last week.
The butcher's bill in Texas goes on longer than that, however. Yu Darvish is on the shelf with an elbow injury that will likely cost him the rest of 2014. The team already lost two starters in Martin Perez (Tommy John surgery) and Matt Harrison (back), as well as utility infielder Kevin Kouzmanoff (back), reliever Alexei Ogando (elbow) and fill-in starter Tanner Scheppers. All of that has led to lots of playing time for the likes of J.P. Arencibia, Dan Robertson and Colby Lewis, making Texas' 50-79 record that much easier to understand.
With Choo done, the Rangers have called up Michael Choice, who has hit .177/.247/.318 in limited time, and will likely let him patrol left field, probably in a platoon with Jim Adduci. Choice is unlikely to give the Rangers much in the way of above-average production for the rest of this season, but with Texas firmly out of the playoff chase, it's worth seeing what he has to offer for 2015 and beyond. Plus, Texas could use all the bad baseball that Choice has got in him. The Rangers are two games up on the Rockies for the game's worst record and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Getting the top pick in the draft won't make up for this year's struggles, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
As for Choo, he'll watch the rest of Texas' disastrous season from the bench along with the dozen or so other teammates of his currently on the DL. If he can return to full health by the start of next year, there's no reason to think that he and the rest of a whole Rangers lineup can't compete in the AL West. Unfortunately, as Texas learned this year with Choo, Fielder and others, it's never a good idea to assume full health going into a season.