A 26-year-old first baseman, Abreu has played in Cuba’s Serie Nacional since the 2003-04 season, meaning that he will be exempt from Major League Baseball’s international signing restrictions and is therefore seemingly in line for a massive contract.
However, it may take some time—several months according to Ben Badler of Baseball America—until the Abreu sweepstakes can begin. First, he will need to establish residence in another country so that Major League Baseball can declare him a free agent. He will then need to be cleared by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets and Control (OFAC) in order to sign with a team.
Listed at 6’3”, 250 pounds, Abreu is arguably the most prolific Cuban slugger—yes, even more so than Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig. A right-handed hitter who showcases robust power to all fields, the 26-year-old employs a unique double toe-tap load to initiate an easy, but powerful, swing. While some scouts are divided about how his average bat speed will translate at the major league level, he does an excellent job of getting the barrel on the ball and uses his strength to drive it with authority from line-to-line.
In previous international competitions, such as the World Port Tournament in Rotterdam in July and the World Baseball Classic in March, Abreu demonstrated the ability to square velocity, though he seemed to prefer pitches that allowed him to extend his hands. Like most Cuban hitters, Abreu showed the ability to punish mediocre breaking balls within the strike zone but also the propensity to chase better offerings off the plate.
During roughly a decade in the Serie Nacional, Abreu annually put up monster offensive numbers.
In 2009-10, Abreu finished third in the league’s MVP voting—behind well-known mashers Alfredo Despaigne and Yulieski Gourriel—after batting .388/.542/.786 with 30 home runs and a 55/74 K/BB ratio in 94 games. In addition to drawing 32 intentional walks, he also led the league in on-base percentage and slugging while finishing second in batting average and home runs.
During the following season, Abreu put himself on the map with one of top offensive performances in Serie history. Appearing in 77 games, he batted .448/.592/.952 with 16 doubles, 37 home runs and a 37/66 K/BB ratio, and was subsequently named league MVP. During the regular season, Abreu tied Yoenis Cespedes with 33 home runs despite missing 23 games with bursitis in his shoulder.
Abreu once again put up Ruthian numbers during the 2011-12 season, batting .394/.543/.835 with 18 doubles, 37 home runs, 103 RBI and a 43/80 K/BB ratio in 92 games. Although he paced the circuit in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS, he finished behind Despaigne in the end-of-season MVP voting.
This past year, Abreu furthered his success by batting .344/.479/.604 with 17 doubles, 19 home runs and 43/58 K/BB ration in 83 games. However, his season was cut short due to his participation in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, in which he batted .360/.385/.760 with three home runs in 25 at-bats.
At 26 years old, Abreu is considered to be in the prime of his career and therefore expected to receive a large contract from an MLB organization. And, as Badler of Baseball America noted, with the depleted market for free-agent first basemen heading into the offseason, the demand for Abreu’s services will inevitably build over the coming months.
As of now, it’s expected that the top first baseman on the market will be Boston’s Mike Napoli, who turns 32 later in the fall. Abreu is viewed as an immediate impact hitter in the major leagues just as Cespedes and Yasiel Puig were previously.
It just so happens that many of the teams needing a first baseman next season are those capable of breaking the bank to offer Abreu a very large contract. The Red Sox and Rangers seem to be the most likely suitors due to their instability at the position and overall desire to be in the playoff hunt every season. Meanwhile, other teams that could be in the mix for Abreu’s services include the White Sox, Blue Jays and Mets.
If all goes as planned, Abreu should be able to command significantly larger contracts than fellow defectors Cespedes and Puig. That said, I think we’ll see him land a deal north of $70 million.