The White Sox made their first major off-season move on Thursday signing Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu to a 6 year, $68 million contract pending a physical. The contract is the largest ever for an international free agent, easily topping the 4 years, $36MM that the A’s gave Yoenis Cespedes and the 7 year, $42MM the Dodgers gave Yasiel Puig last year. The Red Sox, Rangers and Astros were also in pursuit of the 26-year-old Cuban first baseman.
Abreu was the MVP of Cuba’s Serie Nacional in 2010-11 when he hit .453/.597/.986 with 33 home runs, 58 walks and 32 strikeouts in just 293 plate appearances and tied for the league lead in homers with Cespedes despite having missed 23 games with a shoulder injury.
In 2011-12 Abreu hit .394/.542/.837 with 35 home runs, 75 walks and 40 strikeouts in 71 games, leading the league in all three triple slash categories.
This past season the season was split into two halves and Abreu hit .382 in the first half and .305 in the second with a total of 19 homers in 55 games. He also had 37 walks against 21 strikeouts in the first half of the season.
Those are very impressive numbers, even taking into account the Cuban league’s inflated offensive numbers.
Abreu’s number one attribute is his power, which has graded out at the top of the scouting scale. He is a bona fide slugger with tremendous raw power who can hit the ball out of the park to all fields. The biggest question seems to be whether his bat speed is quick enough to handle Major League pitching.
The negative against Abreu is that, unlike Cespedes or Puig, he isn’t very athletic. He lacks speed and agility so he pretty much has to hit the ball hard and far to be productive.
Abreu is likely to be the White Sox long term replacement at first base for Paul Konerko. While he is by no means going to be a great fielder, scouts say he has solid hands and a decent arm so he probably isn’t much of a downgrade from Konerko in the field.
What this means for the White Sox is that Abreu is going to be the centerpiece of their 2014 rebuild. He will step in a fill a huge organizational void at first base where the Sox best minor league performer at the position was a 26-year-old playing his first season at AA.
Abreu and Avisail Garcia will likely form the middle of the White Sox order for the next handful of years and while both players are somewhat unknowns, they both have tremendous potential and are considerably younger and cheaper than the players they will be replacing.
It is a bold move by Sox GM Rick Hahn but one that makes sense for what he wants to do. It gives the Sox a potential difference maker next year and for several years to come. With a thin free agent market and money to spend, Hahn obviously felt like Abreu was the highest impact player available for the value. The White Sox needed to upgrade the offense and this is a move that addresses that need.
The other thing that this move signals is the official end of the Paul Konerko era on the South Side. While many of us assumed that Paulie had played his last game with the White Sox, this pretty much assures that. The only question that remains is whether or not the Sox will try and move Adam Dunn in the off-season or start the season with Dunn and Abreu splitting time between first base and DH. I find the later more likely, with Dunn becoming a trade deadline candidate assuming he doesn’t have a 2011-esque relapse.
The signing of Jose Abreu shows that Rick Hahn, like his predecessor, is willing to make bold moves to try and strengthen the ball club. Whether or not his moves work out are yet to be seen but we have already seen Hahn begin to put his stamp on the White Sox. It will be interesting to see what moves the White Sox make the rest of the off-season but they have definitely come out of the gate swinging.