Analysis

White Sox: In the Case of Jose Abreu, Trust that Rick Hahn Will Get it Right

The Major League Baseball hot stove is usually sizzling by now but there are a multitude of factors contributing to this offseason’s slow pace. Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t been traded yet and there are multiple teams in the mix. The Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes is about to begin and while he’s limited to minuscule bonus figures, teams have been fully immersed in his courtship.

There are also a plethora of Scott Boras clients on the free agent market and the most prominent agent in the sport likes to take his time. It’s also been speculated by writers and executives that some of the modern day General Managers just aren’t in as big of a hurry as past decision makers. There is no clear overriding factor as to why there hasn’t been more activity but those are some of the contributing factors.

White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn was a familiar face at last December’s annual Winter Meetings and he continued to disassemble his ball club into, and during the course of last season. It’s been stated that the heavy lifting as far as trades go is over for the White Sox but that thought process is mostly echoed due to the fact that Hahn basically traded everything that wasn’t nailed to the floor.

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The White Sox still have a couple large decisions looming however, and one of them relates to the present face of the franchise. In the offseason prior to the 2014 campaign, Jose Abreu was given a six-year contract worth $68 million to join the Pale Hose. The Cuban slugger exploded onto the scene compiling 36 homers and 107 RBI in 622 trips to the dish. The eventual Rookie of the Year hit .317/.383/.581 during his first season in the big’s and the then 27 year-old accumulated a 5.3 fWAR and accrued a wOBA of .411 and a robust 167 wRC+ to go along with an ISO of .264.

Abreu wasn’t as spectacular in 2015 or 2016 but was a steady performer on some faulty White Sox clubs. The First Baseman hit 25 homers and drove in 100 runs both seasons. Abreu has a solid hit tool and provides power to all fields but he often uses an aggressive approach and has a propensity to swing and miss more than is sensually appealing to certain fans. The slugger still managed to produce five fWAR total during his 2015 and 2016 seasons on the Southside.

Abreu was rarely mentioned as a trade target of clubs last offseason but that has changed after bouncing back in a big way this past season. In 2017, Abreu compiled 4.1 fWAR and slashed .304/.354/.552 while slugging 33 homers and driving in 102 runs. He was the best First Baseman in the American League largely due to a gaudy .248 ISO in addition to a wRC+ of 138 and a .377 wOBA. Other teams have apparently started to take notice.

 

Heyman’s report could mean any number of things but this seems to be business as usual for Rick Hahn. Hahn has mentioned on numerous platforms that the club would have a pertinent decision to make regarding its star player. It was assumed by many fans and media members that Jose Abreu would be sticking around due to his immense leadership ability, charitable demeanor and principled work ethic. He also played a big part in the recruitment of fellow countryman Luis Robert and served as a sounding board for top prospect and future franchise face Yoan Moncada once he arrived at 35th and Shields. Abreu has even mentioned in the past that he’d like to stay in Chicago for the rest of his career. Abreu will be tendered a contract for the 2018 season and our own Griffin Meadors detailed some reasons as to why the White Sox should hang onto their star player rather than giving into the temptation of trading him.

Jose Abreu should earn a salary of around $17 million in arbitration this year, and likely close to $20 million in 2019. This is not an unreasonable price for someone of Abreu’s stature but it’s easy to figure out why the organization has an important decision to make. With two years of team control remaining, it is important for the White Sox to decide whether to trade or keep Jose this offseason.

His value is at an all time high on the trade market and waiting until the July trading deadline or next offseason isn’t in the club’s best interest. Rick Hahn is a pragmatic baseball executive that hasn’t let emotion cloud his judgment to this point in the organizational rebuilding process. I don’t expect that to change. It is imperative that the White Sox max out the value on their controllable assets and that’s why Abreu’s name is being bandied about often. I’m always a fan of cashing in value at its peak but I understand the thought process of keeping Abreu around into the future. He needs to sacrifice to do so however.

If Jose Abreu loves Chicago and the organization that signed him out of Cuba so much that he wants to stay in town for a discount rate then I think there’s a solid chance that he finishes his career with Chicago’s American League club. However, I don’t think Rick Hahn will be in the business of paying a 31 year-old first-baseman retail prices though.

Hahn seems to be talking to clubs and waiting for an offer he can’t refuse but eventually it will be time to make an actual decision. The organization traded Chris Sale in his prime. Nobody is off limits. Abreu could play the role of mentor for Moncada, Robert and others but this is the MLB and not a daycare center. If Moncada and Robert won’t live up to their lofty prospect status due to Abreu’s departure then they likely shouldn’t be depended on anyway. With that being said, I don’t expect the White Sox to deal their leader for pennies on the dollar. It’s going to take quite a bit in return for Abreu to change uniforms for 2018.

 

 

It’s possible that the White Sox will decide to keep Jose Abreu and allow him to steward their young core into the future by buying out his remaining arbitration years and signing him to a below market and team friendly extension. It’s also possible that they get an offer that they can’t refuse and just decide to pick up the pieces later. Abreu will be 33 years-old with a likely diminishing skill-set by the time the White Sox plan on seriously contending for the American League Central again so the front office has a slippery slope to walk on throughout this process.

The Boston rumors don’t make a ton of sense at face value. At first, I thought that the White Sox were leveraging Boston publicly in order to advance talks with other clubs and it’s also possible that Dave Dombrowski wants the trade information public to get the free agent market moving to his advantage. The Red Sox were very interested in Abreu when he defected from Cuba however and he’d be a perfect fit on their club. The White Sox were rumored to be interested in Boston CF Jackie Bradley Jr. according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe but an Abreu/Bradley swap just doesn’t make sense for the White Sox.

It’s been reported by Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports that the White Sox asked Boston for a young player on the big league roster (likely third-baseman Rafael Devers or outfielder Andrew Benintendi) and it’s more evidence that Abreu likely won’t be changing his Sox. Lefty Jay Groome, third-baseman Michael Chavis and first-baseman Sam Travis are the best prospects left in Boston and none of those guys move the meter in a Jose Abreu trade.

Heyman reported that the Red Sox were just one of the teams that Rick Hahn is “actively” discussing his Cuban star with though. The Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals are other teams that would potentially make some sense. It’s going to take a lot to pry Abreu away from Chicago but Hahn is a smart executive that will ultimately separate his feelings from logic in this matter. There’s a very solid chance that Jose Abreu will be the starting first-baseman for the White Sox in April, but if Hahn can further enhance his chances of sustained success by adding more high-end prospect capital, he won’t hesitate to do so.

If Colorado makes well regarded infielder Brendan Rodgers or right-handed fireballer Riley Pint available in talks, they could progress quickly. St. Louis has catcher Carson Kelly, a glut of starting pitching and a surplus of young outfielders that could be dangled in a trade as well. While being a division rival, the Cleveland Indians are in a different place as a franchise and I wouldn’t rule them out as a potential trading partner either. The MLB offseason has finally begun and it should be a wild month of December for baseball executives, writers and fans.

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