Jorge Abreu generated a lot of excitement last night as we learned about his defection. He's a huge kid (BR has him at 6'2", 260 lbs.) entering the prime age of his career. He's been playing at the highest level of Cuban Baseball - Series Nacional -- since he was 17. Some call him quite possibly the best hitter in baseball, even saying he could be as good or better than Miguel Cabrera.
In 2010-2011 he put up the following slash line: 448/.592/.952 with 37 HRs in 77 games. His last season at Cuba wasn't quite as gaudy at .344/.479/.604 with 19 HRs in 61 games.
The Cubs have said they will look in every corner of the planet for talent and there may be no more talented hitter in the world than Abreu.
So it's a no-brainer, right? The Cubs should sign him. They could definitely use that kind of hitter.
Not so fast.
There are a number of obstacles here. The first is that Abreu is a 1B only and he is just adequate (at best) defensively and some think he may be better off DH'ing. The Cubs have a 24 year old LH 1B only player in Anthony Rizzo who just recently signed a team friendly extension (7 years, $41M with options through the year 2021).
Rizzo is a superlative defensive 1B with very good plate discipline and power. And while his numbers haven't been as good this season, statistics such as RC+ (109 this year vs. 117 last year) suggest he may not be as far off as we might initially think. Rizzo has had better power --ISO of .204 vs. .178 -- than he did last year. The only real problem has been a low batting average which has been at least partially caused by a low BABIP of .259.
The question then becomes can the Cubs somehow make room? Can either play LF adequately? The answer is no. Abreu has no shot at playing LF and maybe Rizzo can play it, but he won't play it well and the Cubs will make themselves well below average defensively at two positions in one fell swoop. For a team that wants to build a good defense, that's not an easy sacrifice to make.
And not everyone thinks he can be Miguel Cabrera, some have said he's closer to Ryan Howard, which makes the decision even more difficult. My guess is that if the Cubs think he's Cabrera, they'll seriously think about it, but if he's the RH version of Ryan Howard, it becomes less enticing.
We know the Cubs have the money to land Abreu, the bigger question is whether they want to devote that much payroll space to two 1Bs. It seems like there would be a better way to allocate limited payroll resources at the MLB level. Complicating the issue is that there are other teams who are willing to spend on the Cuban market -- the Red Sox, Rangers, and even the White Sox and Athletics -- and are missing a long term first baseman. It stands to reason that those teams would be willing to bid high because at least two of those teams have the resources, all have the willingness to spend internationally, and each has the need for a 1B. What's more, all 3 teams are in the AL and could slot him at DH if necessary. That opens things up to even more teams in the bidding, such as the New York Yankees and possibly the Seattle Mariners, who are always looking for offense.
So it may not even be about how much the Cubs desire to add talent, their desire may be trumped by the greater needs of other ball clubs. Their interest could be swamped by desperation. And their philosophy of acquiring the best talent available might lose out to the practicality of better fit elsewhere.
I expect the Cubs to look into Jose Abreu with interest, but as far as signing him, I'm not expecting them to get into a bidding war -- much less win one.
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