By Matt Spiegel-
In one of the busiest times of the sports year, with four major sports relevant, a White Sox roster move has stolen focus.
In one of the more intriguing offseasons in recent White Sox history, this move has provided some definition.
The new general manager has more firmly put his stamp on what he wants this team to be in the present and future.
And one of the greatest players in franchise history will probably be gently ushered off the field, if not thoroughly out the door.
Other than that, there’s nothing to see here.
The White Sox have reportedly landed Jose Dariel Abreu, the Cuban first baseman/DH who some call the world’s best slugger, with a six-year, $68 million dollar contract. It’s the largest deal ever given to a foreign player.
We don’t yet know exactly how the White Sox are splitting up that money; some may be signing bonus, and the annual number could slide in either direction progressively. But if Abreu produces anywhere close to the way he did in Cuba, that $11.3 mil per season average will look like a bargain.
It’s two years and $32 million more than the A’s paid when they won the bidding on Yoenis Cespedes. Two playoff appearances later (with one home run derby title thrown in for fun and marketing), Oakland is not displeased with him.
It’s $26 million more than the Dodgers gave Yasiel Puig with his seven-year deal. In his 104 games this season, Puig helped spark LA’s amazing climb to the division title and the NLCS, and is one of the most discussed players in the game.
Abreu is nowhere near the complete player either of those men are. He’s a 6’3”, 250-pound bopper. He won’t thrill you with base running or defense. But he has plus-plus raw power, and should destroy mistakes. His on-base percentage and home run ratio in the Cuban leagues are video game worthy.
There are sensible questions as to whether he can turn on big league inside fastballs, or lay off of outside sliders. He’s seemingly loved more by the analytics people than the scouting people, though both camps are somewhat split.
He’ll no doubt soon be referred to by cynical Sox fans as a Cuban, right-handed Adam Dunn. He features the similarly limited skill set that means if the power doesn’t show up, his value dwindles fast.
But Abreu is absolutely worth this gamble.
Remember, Rick Hahn’s aggressive unloading of Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Matt Thornton, and Jesse Crain saved more than $50 million dollars in 2013 payroll.
That’s not a number from the future, or some theoretical 2014 payroll. That’s dollars put back into Jerry Reinsdorf’s pocket. And now those dollars have been put to use on a 26 year old slugger for the next 7 years.
2013 began with a $119 million payroll. The committed salary for the 2014 White Sox, before this signing, was $48 million. If Peavy and Rios were still here, that number would be $75 million.
So, the invaluable spending flexibility is there for Hahn to reshape on the fly.
This move signifies that it won’t be a lengthy rebuild, something that simply would not be welcomed by Sox ownership and ticket buyers. What made sense for the Cubs 2 years ago, does not for the Sox right now.
That’s not just because of the desires of ownership, or the attendance. It’s because Hahn has more to work with on the top level.
Chris Sale is a flat out ace. Jose Quintana had a terrific year, and is a worthy mid-rotation starter. John Danks is locked, loaded and untradeable; Hahn hopes he’ll resume what was a promising career arc, pre-injury. Erik Johnson and/or Ariel Rienzo may end up an acceptable 5th starter.
There are a ton of holes in the offense and defense. But there’s money to work with, and an apparent readiness to improve quickly. Hahn needs to be better than he was last year, and not miss as badly as he did on the likes of Jeff Keppinger.
The Red Sox took the flexibility they gained in the Dodgers bail out trade at the 2012 deadline, and reshaped themselves from 93 losses to 97 wins. They did that with a much higher payroll ceiling, and better arms on the pitching staff, but it’s an example of what’s conceivable.
Hahn restocked the system with a few prospects mid-season, and clearly values the farm system more than his predecessor. The Sox lagged behind terribly in scouting budget, league-wide, and that’s in the process of being transformed. It needs to still be the main focus, and we’ve heard that it is.
But available cash and pretty good starting pitching on the roster means you don’t have to fully go backwards.
Gordon Beckham will be back. Alejandro De Aza may not be. Dunn’s disastrous career concludes here next season, one way or another. Will Marcus Semien slide in for a traded Alexei Ramirez? Is either Curtis Granderson or Shin Soo Choo another big money target to play in the outfield? Who catches?
There are options, even in this year’s slim free agent market, and some financial room to pick a few.
Meanwhile, it’s the end for Paul Konerko. At least, it should be. Does he even want to play anymore? One wonders if he knew this move might be coming, and how much has been discussed.
The hitting coach job is open.
The two teams in this town are showcasing two different ways to attack their problems, with two very smart baseball bosses trying to find any market inefficiencies they can. It’s really interesting, and should continue to elevate our discussions in the most conversational sport.
Today is a big, bold day for Rick Hahn.