With a week left until the Winter Meetings, free agents are beginning to sign as the hot stove finally, mercifully starts to sizzle. That also means the season of “aw shucks we almost had him” is upon us. First up for the Guardians is José Abreu, who aw shucks they almost had, according to Paul Hoynes.
Hoynes only lists “sources,” but those sources indicated that the Guards offered a three-year deal to Abreu and there is little reason to believe that Hoynes is just making this up. The first baseman did end up signing a three-year deal, but with the World Series Champion Astros, not the Guards. The deal, which is still pending a physical, will lock Abreu up through his age-39 season at an average of $19.5 million per year. Chump change for a team like the Astros who are routinely pumping out trips to the World Series and had the seventh-highest attendance in Major League Baseball last season.
Although he’s playing at an age where anything could cause his production to fall off a cliff, Abreu has been nothing if not consistent over his nine-year MLB career. He’s played in at least 145 games in all but one full regular season, and he played in all 60 games of the 2020 season (in which he also robbed José Ramírez of an MVP, but that’s neither here nor there). In that time, he has also never finished with a wRC+ under 114, peaking at 164 in that 2020 season and riding a .304/.378/.446 (137 wRC+) in his final year with the White Sox.
More to the interest of Cleveland, Abreu is a right-handed bat who hits well against lefties. For his career, he has a 150 wRC+ against southpaws, and last season he slashed .294/.387/.471 against them. If he’s slowing down anywhere, it’s not in mashing lefties — and mashing lefties is what the Guardians need right now. They finished 27th in baseball with an 84 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers, compared to 11th with a 104 wRC+ against righties.
If we can take the news at face value and assume that the Guardians were negotiating to bring him to Cleveland in good faith, it suggests they are not only scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Age is a concern for Abreu, sure, but he’s not some buy-low candidate like Cody Bellinger (who I still think is a decent option, don’t @ me). He’s two years removed from an MVP season and still hitting like a 25-year-old as opposed to a 35-year-old who probably wakes up with mysterious knee pains if my experience as a 30-something is anything to go by. Unless something catastrophic happens, you can probably count on him being at least a decent offensive threat for two, if not all three, years of this deal.
However, the one thing Hoynes’ reporting doesn’t include — in other words, the thing that the Guardians didn’t want to tell him — was the exact total they offered Abreu, only that the $60 million he received was “beyond their reach.” Take that for what you will in terms of the Guardians negotiating with a real interest in signing him.
Until the Guardians actually spend the money, the promise of “having money to spend” is all bluster. But for once, maybe it’s not. We’ll probably find out next week.