03/04/11 8:52 PM ET
Postseason push on Choo's mind in 2011
Slugger tests arm in first right field action of Cactus League slate
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
"Playoffs," Choo said. "That's it. Nothing else is important to me."
For fans of the Tribe, such a goal might seem outlandish given the ballclub's recent history. Indians manager Manny Acta has made it clear, however, that he has stressed to his players all spring that outside expectations do not matter. So he didn't flinch when told of Choo's comments.
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"That's our expectation," Acta said. "If not, we would just go home. Why waste our time? That's our expectation, and, as long as we're expecting it, we're fine with what everybody else expects."
Choo, who has been battling a mild case of right elbow soreness this spring, made his Cactus League debut in right field in a 6-2 victory over Colorado on Friday. The Indians expect to have Choo in right field and in the middle of the lineup for this season and the two that follow.
After 2013, Choo can become a free agent.
That is why his comments matter.
The Indians hope to lock the budding star in with a long-term contract, but it remains to be seen if the two sides can strike such a deal. During the Winter Meetings, Choo's agent, Scott Boras, called the Indians a "developmental" team, adding that multiyear deals with such clubs can be difficult to accomplish.
Boras' description likely stems from the club's 190 losses over the past two years, its lowered payroll and the fact that the Tribe is the youngest team in baseball. It's not always easy to convince a player on the cusp of super-stardom and free agency to stay in that type of situation.
"It doesn't matter," Choo said. "Every year, it's, 'Make the playoffs.' It doesn't matter if it's a multiyear contract or a one-year contract. It doesn't matter to me. I have the same goal."
The Indians avoided arbitration with the 28-year-old in January, signing Choo to a one-year deal worth $3.975 million. Shortly before Spring Training began, Choo made it known that he was not interested in discussing a long-term pact once the regular season begins.
So far, Choo hasn't heard anything about ongoing discussions from general manager Chris Antonetti.
"He hasn't said anything about my contract. Nothing," Choo said. "I don't know if my agent and the Indians talk about it. I don't know. My agent never told me. He said the contract is over for this year. So I said, 'OK.' My focus is on this year."
Choo cited health as the most important factor for the Tribe to make the postseason.
"That's the first thing," Choo said. "[Travis] Hafner, Grady [Sizemore], [Carlos] Santana and everybody. Me, [Matt] LaPorta, everybody on the team -- 25 guys -- everybody healthy. I know a couple guys sometimes get injuries, but not big injuries.
"That's the key. Everybody healthy. Then we'll have a really good chance of making the playoffs."
Choo has been fighting discomfort in his throwing elbow since early in camp, forcing him to play as a designated hitter leading up to Friday's game against the Rockies. Acta noted that Choo would return to DH duties for Saturday's tilt against the White Sox.
Choo went 0-for-3 in Friday's win. The only time his throwing arm was really tested came in the third inning, when Colorado's Jonathan Herrera tripled down the right-field line. Choo gloved the ball and made an easy throw to the cutoff man rather than rifling the ball in -- intentionally.
"There was no reason to throw 100 percent," Choo said.
Acta was pleased with Choo's approach on the play this early in camp.
"That's called maturity," Acta said. "Experience."
After all, Choo knows it's most important to be prepared for the 162-game grind ahead. Going all out early in Spring Training games is not necessary, especially when his left elbow is not yet back at full strength.
Choo played five innings and noted that he felt fatigued as the game wore on. He said that Indians head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff assured him that feeling tired was expected, considering the outfielder used the past week to build up arm strength for playing in the field.
The Indians don't expect Choo's elbow issue to create any issues as Spring Training progresses. What the club does anticipate is receiving another strong campaign from the right fielder.
Last year, all Choo did was hit .300 with 22 home runs, 22 stolen bases, 31 doubles, 90 RBIs and a .401 on-base percentage over 144 games. In the process, he became the first Indians batter in franchise history to hit at least .300 with 20-plus homers and stolen bases in consecutive seasons.
Choo might aim for a third consecutive season with those numbers, but he sidestepped questions about his personal goals for the season ahead.
There is only one thing on Choo's mind right now.
"We have a good offense and we have good pitching, too," Choo said. "In baseball, you never know. Most people say we'll be in last place for the season, but you never know. Nobody said San Francisco was going to be the champion."