Choo relishing 2020, the last year of big Rangers contract

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Shin-Soo Choo wants to enjoy baseball even more this season, all of those times in the clubhouse and on the field while still at the top of the Texas Rangers lineup.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the year,” said Choo, the 37-year-old leadoff hitter going into the final season of his $130 million, seven-year contract.

Choo has genuine confidence that he can play at a high level for another couple of years, or more, after 2020.

There is just no way to know if he will be re-signed by the Rangers, maybe go to another team or decide it’s time to be at home full-time with his wife and three growing children. Those are all questions he said are too early to consider.

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“I still love this game,” Choo said. “I’m still lucky to play major league level, and then it’s very special, major league uniform, wearing my number on it, my name on it on the back. That’s very special, very lucky. I still feel that way, so we’ll see.”

His oldest kid is a 14-year-old son who is a high school freshman playing baseball and football. Choo flew home to Texas last weekend to watch one of his baseball games.

“I really want to see him play so bad sometimes,” Choo said. “Just think about myself, I’ll play five, 10 more years.”

A first-time All-Star in 2018, Choo followed that up by hitting .265 with a career-high 24 home runs and a .371 on-base percentage last season.

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“He’s the most professional player, person,” manager Chris Woodward said. “I truly value the person and what he can do. And, you know, I still think there’s a lot left physically just based on the way he prepares himself, the shape that he keeps himself in.”

Choo will be the highest-paid Rangers player this season, at $21 million for the final year of his back-loaded deal. The only longer-tenured Texas player is 31-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus, who is entering his 12th season.

Texas signed Choo as a free agent the same offseason it acquired Prince Fielder in a trade from Detroit, when the All-Star slugger had seven seasons left on a nine-year contract. Fielder was forced to retire midway through the 2016 season, at age 32, after a second neck surgery over a three-year period.

Choo, who turns 38 in mid-July, was coming off a career-high .423 on-base percentage during his only season with the Cincinnati Reds when he got to Texas. He is still having productive seasons for the Rangers.

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Corey Kluber, a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner known for his own hard work ethic and attention to detail, made his major league debut in 2011 with Cleveland when Choo was with the Indians.

“‘When I first got called up, you noticed right away the way he goes about his business. So I tried to try to pay attention to that a lot,” said Kluber, who was traded from Cleveland to Texas during the offseason. “It definitely impact on me when I was younger.”

Choo has averaged 149 games over the past three seasons, since being limited to 48 games in 2016 because of four stints on the disabled list for different injuries each time.

He has had at least 20 homers and 75 walks in each of the past three seasons, becoming only the third Rangers player to do that. The others were Rafael Palmeiro’s record five in a row (1999-2003), and Alex Rodriguez from 2001-03. Palmeiro and Adrian Beltre are the only other Texas players with at least 24 homers in a season at age 36 or older.

Over those three seasons combined, Choo is fifth among all American League players in games played (446), walks (247), hit by pitch (35) and times on base (721).

“I think he’s gotten smarter. His ability to control the strike zone and get on base,” Woodward said. “Pitch one, he is the most prepared player I’ve seen. He doesn’t take one day for granted. He’s there. He’s the earliest there every day. He’ll talk about the game all the time.”