It’s been a slow-moving offseason for most of the teams around Major League Baseball, and our beloved Milwaukee Brewers can certainly be included in that mix. Various rumors have floated around the franchise for the last few months but for the time being, the most notable transaction they’ve completed is the $15.5 mil deal given to Jhoulys Chacin. The front office hasn’t made our heads spin the same way they did during the first two winters of the David Stearns regime; we haven’t been treated to the frenetic series of waiver claims, trades, and minor league free agent signings that we’ve become accustomed to this time of year. At this point, we’ll gladly take any tidbit of news about our local nine that we can get. So...
According to the Yonhap News Agency out of South Korea, 26 year old Incheon native Ji-Man Choi has received more than a dozen contract offers from teams around the league. Per Choi’s representatives, the interested parties are reportedly the Yankees, Angels, Rays, Athletics, Marlins, Cubs, Reds, Orioles, Twins, Braves, Blue Jays, White Sox, and our hometown Milwaukee Brewers. Hat tip for digging up this report goes to the incomparable Jim Goulart of Brewerfan.net (@Mass_Haas on Twitter).
Choi, who turns 27 next May, signed with the Seattle Mariners as an international free agent back in 2009. He’s a very accomplished minor league hitter, with a career .305/.402/.497 slash line and 55 home runs across 1,943 plate appearances. That includes an .868 OPS and 28 home runs in 241 games at the highest level of the minors. Choi has displayed excellent discipline throughout his time in the minors, walking nearly 13% of the time while striking out at a passable 17.6% clip. With his hulking 6’1”, 230 lb build, he’s best suited for first base and has made the bulk of his appearances in the field there. He’s been rated as a solid defender at the cold corner. Choi also has some experience in left field, though perhaps predictably he doesn’t grade out well there.
Choi wasn’t considered a notable prospect while coming up through Seattle’s farm system and he was actually allowed to depart via minor league free agency following the 2015 season. He signed a minor league deal with the Orioles that winter but was selected by the Angels a few weeks later in the Rule 5 draft. Choi would appear in 54 MLB games with Los Angeles during the 2016 season during two separate stints; the Angels DFA’d him, but the Orioles elected to allow his rights to be retained after he cleared waivers. Choi struggled during his first exposure to MLB pitching, batting only .170/.271/.339 with five home runs across 129 plate appearances. His 29:17 K/BB ratio was at least a bit encouraging, however, and he was the victim of an anemic .173 BABIP. Choi was outrighted once again after the season and became a free agent.
Choi signed a minor league deal with the Yankees prior to 2017 and spent the majority of the season in AAA. He hit .288/.373/.538 (149 wRC+) with 15 home runs during 338 trips to the plate. That represented a new career-high for the left-handed slugger, though the newfound power was accompanied by a career-high 25.4% strikeout rate. He found his way to The Show for six games with New York, and in a small 18 plate appearance sample he bashed two home runs and hit .267/.333/.733. He accepted an outright assignment back to AAA in July and hit the open market once again after the season concluded.
According to the Yonhap story, Choi’s agency doesn’t expect him to sign a contract until the bigger name first baseman like Eric Hosmer and Logan Morrison have found homes for 2018. Obviously he’ll be looking for his clearest path to big league playing time. While Choi is almost assuredly looking at signing a minor league deal, his agent tells reporters that one such offer would include a $1.4 mil base salary if he makes the big leagues and come with first-class tickets to the United States and a personal interpreter.
As things stand currently, the Brewers figure to enter 2018 with a reprisal of the Eric Thames/Jesus Aguilar platoon that worked so well last season. With Garrett Cooper no longer in the organization, however, the club is a bit lacking for upper-level depth at the position. Dustin DeMuth (.719 OPS, 9 HR in 116 games at AA) and Jake Gatewood (.775 OPS, 15 HR in 134 games between A+ and AA) would probably fall next on the organization depth chart. If Choi were to sign with the Brewers, he’d likely begin the season at Colorado Springs and wait for an opportunity to arise either through injury or regression from one of Milwaukee’s relatively inexperienced first basemen.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference