Friday, October 18, 2013
Timing a question on Jose Abreu deal
By Keith Law
Jose Abreu should hit with power, but the timing of the White Sox is peculiar.
I'm not surprised at all that Cuban star Jose Abreu received a huge payday, given this year's free-agent class and the increasingly limited ways for MLB teams to spend their money; he's one of the only potential impact bats available this offseason, and signing him won't cost a draft pick. However, the White Sox are a peculiar fit for him given what else is on their roster and where they are in the success cycle at this point.
Abreu has enormous raw power, probably a 70 or perhaps higher, on the 20-80 scale. The power is evident in BP and should translate to 25-35 homers a year in the majors. The concerns about him revolve around his bat speed and his conditioning, only one of which can be fixed or improved at this point.
The conditioning is a smaller issue; he's not a great athlete and has been heavy when scouts have seen him, although the same was true of Yasiel Puig last summer, and he worked to get his body into shape after signing, resulting in the player we saw this year in Los Angeles. Abreu is a below-average runner with the hands to play first base if he slims down, but otherwise is limited on defense and could end up at DH.
The bigger concern scouts have about Abreu is that he might have more of a “slider-speed” bat that will struggle with velocity, especially on the inner half. He's extremely balanced at the plate and very strong, with a setup like a right-handed David Ortiz, and very good follow-through for power to all fields. He hasn't faced many pitchers with plus fastballs, and between his size and the questionable bat speed, several scouts indicated to me that they're concerned that major league pitchers will eat him up with velocity on the inner half.
He's got a quiet approach at the plate, like Puig's, but he doesn't explode to the ball in the same way as Puig or current Cubs prospect Jorge Soler do, and Abreu's pitch recognition and plate discipline are largely unknown, putting a wide variance on his potential production in the majors. The fact that the swing is good is a strong positive, but he's coming to face the best pitching in the world and it would be disingenuous to forecast a big batting average based on all of these other question marks.
By signing Abreu, the White Sox have essentially replaced Paul Konerko.
Chicago's angle in this is harder to see. On the one hand, MLB teams with extra cash lying around -- that is, all of them -- don't have many places left to spend it thanks to the Rule 4 draft caps and the caps on July 2 players (amateurs from outside the United States). Cuban, Japanese, and Korean professional free agents have already started to cash in because spending on those players is unlimited. And with the early success of Yoenis Cespedes and Puig, MLB teams are going to be even more willing to spend on Cuban players who look like they can make an immediate impact. In fact, the excess demand and limited supply almost guarantees teams will overpay for these guys, because they're underpaying for talent in the two amateur arenas.
However, for the White Sox, a rebuilding team that looks to be a few years away from contention, Abreu is a dubious fit. At 27, Abreu looks like his biggest impact will come now, not when the rest of the roster is strong enough to push this team toward 90-plus wins, which might be 2016 or 2017 depending on how fast the team can acquire some starting pitching to back up staff ace Chris Sale. Abreu replaces Paul Konerko on the roster, but doesn't free them up to trade any position player assets to fill any areas of need.
Abreu might also relegate Adam Dunn to bench duty or to waivers -- not that he hasn't earned either of those demotions. Even if Abreu meets or exceeds all expectations, adding four wins of talent to this roster doesn't make the White Sox a contender this year or next, and given his body type and marginal bat speed, he's the type of player who could lose value quickly once he hits 30.