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Choo looks to bounce back in 2012

Cleveland Indians outfielder Choo Shin-soo said Thursday he will try to bounce back next year from a disappointing 2011 season.

Choo, the only South Korean in Major League Baseball, returned to his home in Arizona Thursday to begin his off-season training in earnest, after spending about two months in his native land. As he reflected on his injury-plagued year, Choo said it was the worst season of his career.

“This year, I hit rock bottom, and I‘d never experienced that before in baseball,” Choo told reporters at Incheon International Airport west of Seoul. “I am determined to start all over again. I will let my performance speak for itself.”

The statistics bear out Choo’s assessment of his year. The 29-year-old only played in 85 games, his fewest since becoming a full-time major leaguer in 2008, and managed just eight home runs, 36 RBIs and a .259 batting average -- all his worst numbers since 2008.

The season was all the more disappointing because he was expected to build on his memorable 2010 season. Last year, Choo had 22 home runs with 90 RBIs -- both career-highs -- and also stole 22 bases while hitting .300. It was his second consecutive season of at least 20 home runs and 20 steals, making him the first Indians player with such a streak.

In 2011, Choo got off to a slow start then his season took a turn for the worse in May, when he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. A month later, Choo broke his left thumb after getting hit by a pitch from San Francisco‘s Jonathan Sanchez.

The right fielder missed 41 games and returned to action in mid-August. He only lasted about two weeks before pains on his left side shelved him again. Choo missed 17 more games before playing his final contest on Sept. 15.

Choo said his left thumb is about “60 percent healed” but is pain free.
Cleveland Indians outfielder Choo Shin-soo waits for his flight at Incheon International Airport on Thursday. (Yonhap News)
Cleveland Indians outfielder Choo Shin-soo waits for his flight at Incheon International Airport on Thursday. (Yonhap News)

“I need more strength there but I can work on it,” he said. “So I am not really worried.”

What may worry him is his contract situation. After his 2010 season, Choo signed a one-year deal worth $3.975 million, a major raise from his previous $461,000, just above the major league minimum.

Last year, the Indians sought to lock down Choo, considered an integral part of the young club, with a long-term contract without risking losing him to free agency after 2013. Choo, on the other hand, was trying to sign a series of one-year deals, and drive up his stock over the next three or four years during his prime, and then seek a lucrative free agent deal.

After such a bad year, however, Choo doesn’t appear to have much leverage, even with the uber agent Scott Boras representing him.

“I expect to sign some time in January, and I may have a better idea by the middle of next month,” Choo said.

A highly touted pitcher in high school in South Korea, Choo made his major-league debut in 2005 as an outfielder with the Seattle Mariners. He was traded to Cleveland in 2006 but didn‘t become a regular until the second half of 2008. 

(Yonhap News)