Call it a hunch, but I never saw the Rangers as serious bidders on the latest, greatest Cuban import, Jose Daniel Abreu.
Last night he signed with the White Sox for 6 years, $68 million, or about $11.3 million average annual value.
On the surface that doesn’t sound like very much money, especially given the current climate of free agency, conflated by the premium placed on impact bats in this pitcher-dominant era of baseball. At $11.3 million AAV, Abreu is basically being paid as a +2.0- +2.5-win player, and it was apparently a risk the Rangers were not willing to take, no matter how important their need is for both a first baseman and a designated hitter.
Here are some recent contracts that were given to Cuban players:
Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics — 4 years, $36 million ($9 million AAV)
Leonys Martin, Rangers — 5 years, $15.5 million ($3.1 million AAV)
Yasiel Puig, Dodgers — 7 years, $42 million ($6 million AAV)
At $68 million over 6 years, Abreu’s deal dwarfs over the others in total financial commitment, and only Puig’s contract holds a longer lifespan. For the White Sox — one of the true bottom-dwellers in MLB — they clearly not only expect him to produce, but to produce right away.
Jose Abreu is lauded for being one of the best pure hitters in this winter’s excessively bleak free agent market for bats, but when you factor in that he is entirely an unknown at this point, and doesn’t figure to provide any value in the field or on the base paths, I’m finding it hard to fault Jon Daniels for not dishing out a longterm investment. We’re talking about a player who doesn’t exactly fit the versatile theme of this roster. If it all comes together for Abreu, the American League would be the ideal place for him to land — as a DH — but $68 million is quite the hefty sum for a question mark.
Without Abreu, the Rangers have one less option to potentially plug in at 1st base, strengthening the likelihood of it being Ian Kinsler‘s landing spot to open the 2014 season. There are few even reasonable attractive options on the free agent market as far as the position is concerned, most notably being Mike Napoli and Justin Morneau. Given the nature of Napoli’s fallout with the Rangers, as well as the probability of him capitalizing on a strong 2013 campaign, that scenario appears like more of a long shot. And Morneau, well, he just isn’t really the Rangers cup of tea at this point, not unless he’s willing to take a cheap one-year deal.
That leaves us basically in the same position we figured to be in when the offseason began. Either roll with Kins at 1st and Jurickson Profar at 2nd, or seek out an everyday 1st baseman on the trade market, which likely would mean either Kinsler or Profar gets dealt this offseason. As much as I believe neither will be moved this winter, the chance of it happening is only going to seem more realistic until the matter is solved.
At any rate, what we know to be a certainty is that, supposing the Rangers’ front office was truly a believer in Abreu’s bat, there’s no way they would have let him slip past them. Not with how active and thorough they have proven themselves to be in the international market in recent years. $68 million is a lot of money, but not enough to be a deal breaker for someone they felt strongly enough about.