The Korea Times is reporting that free agent 1B Hee Seop Choi has agreed with the Rays on a two year deal totaling $1.95 million. The article is very vague, however, on whether the money is guaranteed, as it also states that Choi will be invited to camp as a non-roster invitee, and those players usually only collect a major league salary should they make the final roster. It is unclear whether this precedent will hold up here, though logic dictates that the Rays front office probably did not guarantee his contract once you figure in the fact that Choi did not play in the major leagues last season and struggled with Boston's AAA Pawtucket affiliate.
Choi, 28 on March 16th, comes into camp as a high-profile Korean position player who arrived with a lot of fanfare in the Chicago Cubs organization, where he became the first Korean born position player to play in the major leagues. However he never lived up to the hype that accompanied his arrival, and bounced around between the Marlins and Dodgers in 2004 and 2005 before spending last year with the PawSox. His career batting average is only .240, however he has a career .349 OBP and the ability to drive the ball, as evidenced by his .437 career SLG. In his last major league season, in 2005, Choi hit .253/.336/.453 for Los Angeles. He had arrived in Chavez Ravine via the deadline deal in 2004 that sent Paul Lo Duca to the Marlins and Brad Penny to the Dodgers. He spent part of 2002 and 2003 with the Cubs as the successor to Fred McGriff.
Choi was stuck in Pawtucket last year, where he struggled to hit IL pitching. He hit .207/.347/.361 with the PawSox, showing a very good IsoD of .140, but coming up short in the power department he makes a living off of. His season was cut short by injury on July 1st, when he played his final game, and was removed from Boston's 40 man roster shortly thereafter.
WARNING: OPINION AHEAD
Personally, and I am going on the assumption that this is not guaranteed money, I think the move is pretty sound. Obviously if the Rays are actually committing nearly $2 million to this guy at the expense of pitching on a guaranteed deal, the whole dynamic changes. Still, for the moment, I think this signing can do nothing but help. I don't think Choi will make the final roster, as we have a logjam of players competing for roster spots and the starting first base job as it is, however Choi provides a good backup in case of injury. He has experience hitting major league pitching fairly well, he gets on base despite poor batting averages, and he has a good glove to boot. I have liked Choi for awhile, and though I wouldn't really pencil him in above our existing options, he provides a good safety net to have in place. Besides, along with Jae Seo, he can increase the amount of attention that Korean nationals would pay to the Rays that they otherwise would not have. Whether that translates into any revenue is beside the point, just getting your name mentioned so prominently in Korean national sports is an accomplishment. My take? As long as the money is not guaranteed, I like the deal.
Update [2006-11-29 8:55:25 by Patrick L. Kennedy]: We have clarification on the "guaranteed/non-guaranteed" issue. Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times reports that the deal is guaranteed only if Choi plays in the major leagues.
So, the deal is good!