Recently, José Abreu unsurprisingly accepted the White Sox’s qualifying offer, keeping him in the south side for another year at $17.8 million. Given that he is going into his age-33 season, is probably better suited to DH, and is a good but not great offensively, it was probably the best decision for him, especially considering the current unpredictable nature of free agency. However, in what was a surprise move, the Sox decided to extend him through the 2022 season.
The new contract replaces Abreu’s QO deal. Ironically, he will take a slight pay cut in 2020 over what he was originally going to get, receiving a $5 million signing bonus and $11 million in base salary, followed by $16 million in 2021 and $18 million in 2022.
I don’t ever want to knock a team for spending, but one has to wonder what the thought process was behind this decision. Abreu is more or less an average player these days, and while there is nothing at all wrong with paying for an average player, he might stop being so as soon as next season.
Players of Abreu’s body type tend not to age well. Take Miguel Cabrera, for example. The future Hall of Famer was still in vintage form in his age-33 season, hitting .316/.393/.563 with 38 HR, which more than made up for his declining first base defense. He was worth 4.7 WAR that season, and then his performance fell off a cliff. He played in only 168 games over his subsequent age-34 and age-35 seasons, and was only an average hitter, slashing .260/.344/.410 over that time.
Cabrera has been a replacement level player ever since his great age-33 season, and Abreu is certainly no Cabrera. In 2019, he hit .284/.330/.503 with 33 HR, good for a 117 wRC+. He does not walk or get on base much, so his value is pretty much completely tied up in his power. His defense and lack of speed are only going to get worse, too. The good news is that Steamer projects him to be more or less the same player in 2020, but I imagine there has to be wide error bars on that. I would definitely take the under on his projected 116 wRC+.
Even if Abreu hits those projections, I doubt he would have said no to a two-year, $32.2 million deal, which is basically what this extension amounts to, even without the qualifying offer being able to be extended to him. The thing is that next year’s free agent crop at first base is not great unless the Cubs decline Anthony Rizzo’s option, which is not inconceivable if they just want to save money, but it is pretty unlikely. From that perspective, it is easier to understand why the White Sox want to lock him up now.
As with new teammate Yasmani Grandal, Abreu is a veteran Cuban player, and it appears that the White Sox are putting value on that mentorship. How much value one should put in that will forever be debated, but there is certainly something to be said for Abreu to be there for Eloy Jiménez and fellow countrymen Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada.
Worst case scenario, this should not stop the White Sox from spending now or in the future, even with the Yasmani Grandal contract. The game has never been more profitable, and owner Jerry Reinsdorf is worth $1.5 billion. If Abreu becomes unplayable, the team’s problem will not be the money, it will be the lack of a first baseman.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.