On Monday, Baseball America’s Ben Badler laid out the five teams most likely to sign highly-productive plodding Cuban masher Jose Dariel Abreu now that he’s hit free agency. Rather than just idly listing who needed a big bat, Badler gave a rationale for why every team might have an inside track. The White Sox snuck in as Badler’s fifth-most likely team, with the following being the most relevant connection:
“Not only do the White Sox have a history of signing prominent Cuban players like Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo, but special assistant Marco Paddy, who runs the organization’s international scouting after previously doing so for Toronto, signed Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from Abreu’s agency, Praver Shapiro Sports Management, for a $10 million big league deal.”
It’s nice to be relevant in a major story again.
The funny thing about the White Sox having the cash to secure an impact free agent and being “not that far away” thanks to their pitching staff is that free agency is a wasteland of sorrow and diminishing returns. Alexei Casilla, Delmon Young and Jarrod Saltalamacchia represent the only under-30 position players hitting the market. As much as Rick Hahn has publicly stressed a desire for any free agent signing to be more than “a short-term fix,” it would be a sad concession to turn around and sign a player to an Adam Dunn-plan, where the Sox hope the immediate returns outweigh the decline their mid-30’s bring. (Note: Adam Dunn is not an example of even a normal result of The Adam Dunn plan)
As much as the excitement around Abreu centers around absurd Serie Nacional numbers that no one is sure how to contextualize and enthusiasm for Cuban talent after the early breakouts of Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman, Abreu’s appeal could be simplified down to not much beyond him being 26 and potentially above-average hitter at first base or DH, and in those terms he reminds me of a much less ballyhooed acquisition: Alex Rios.
Rios gave the White Sox a loophole from the quandary of the lack of elite, five-tool athletes in their system, and the sad pursuit of acquiring them at the back-end of their career. Now, Abreu offers the opportunity to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat–another thing the Sox minors are not teeming with–through his prime years. It’s a shortcut for a team that doesn’t have the time or patience to go the traditional route.
There’s a bidding war to be won, though, and while the White Sox are uncommonly flush with funds, it is typically not their preference to have to claw their way over other bids to get their man. To do so, the would probably want to be more sure, which is where the flaws of Abreu become relevant. Badler summed them up as well as anyone could:
“At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, he’s a righthanded hitter with plus-plus raw power who can hit soft stuff in the strike zone, but he has a tendency to chase hard breaking pitches off the plate. Some scouts are concerned about his bat speed and the way he cuts himself off with his swing, particularly coming off a World Baseball Classic in which he looked vulnerable against decent fastballs on the inner third. Some scouts said they would rather have Napoli than Abreu.”
Not that the White Sox should have a matching set of flawed players, but this sounds similar to an Avisail Garcia takedown, and no in the organization can seem to talk about him without breaking into a toothy grin. Garcia has more tools and more room for development and didn’t cost $50 million, so it wouldn’t be absurd for the Sox to take a look at Abreu and simply conclude that this isn’t going to work because there’s not an above-average contributor here. This is a situation where scouting takes precedent.
That would be a fine reason, but would bring the White Sox back to their sad reality, with no offensive core to speak of and having to guess which free agent won’t be terrible at age 35. An alternative to this should get some serious consideration.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan