On Thursday, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez reported that multiple industry sources had confirmed that the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros were the remaining teams in the mix for for Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu, who was officially declared a free agent and eligible to sign with any team last month.
ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted later that the Red Sox were out, leaving the White Sox and Astros as the front-runners to sign the 26-year-old slugger (27 in January).
The saga continued when Olney tweeted an update shortly afterward, hearing that the Astros were all but certain that their offer had fallen short.
Source say Astros are skeptical about their chances of signing Jose Abreu. Made a strong offer but all but certain they fell short. W. Sox?— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 17, 2013
Barring a mystery team entering the picture at the last minute, it appeared that the White Sox stood alone in their pursuit of Abreu, who would replace Paul Konerko as the team's starting first baseman.
And now, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is reporting Friday that a deal is being finalized.
Jose Abreu finalizing terms on six-year, $68M deal. Club expected to be #WhiteSox. Deal will be largest first-time contract for int’l player— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 18, 2013
Considering that Cuban outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig received $36 million and $42 million, respectively, Abreu's price tag seems lofty for a player whose value lies solely in his bat. And with scouting reports on his hitting ability being mixed, as was reported by ESPN's Jerry Crasnick last month, throwing close to $70 million at Abreu is a risky proposition.
While the feeling is that he could easily surpass 30 homers per season, there are questions regarding his bat speed and whether he can catch up with good inside fastballs.
One Latin scout, according to Crasnick, compared Abreu to Dayan Viciedo but with less athleticism. The same scout said he had more power than Kendrys Morales but wasn't as good of a hitter.
Nevertheless, the White Sox do need to add some pop to an offense that had the fourth-worst OPS (.680) in 2013. And with Konerko's $13.5 million salary and pitcher Gavin Floyd's $9.5 million salary off the books, along with the hefty salaries of Jake Peavy and Alex Rios, who were traded midseason, they have the necessary payroll space to make a splash this offseason.
General manager Rick Hahn has not commented on the potential signing but all signs point to this being a good fit for both sides. In addition to filling a void at first base and in the middle of the lineup, Abreu fills Hahn's vision of adding high-priced free agents only if they can help over the next several seasons.
"If a free agent this year fits, a big name, high-priced free agent is not just going to be for '14," said Hahn in a news conference at the end of the season. "It's going to be with a vision for the next several years thereafter as well.”
Abreu would be joining a lineup that would likely include two of his fellow countrymen, Alexei Ramirez and Viciedo (pictured), making the transition from Cuba to Chicago a very comfortable one.
Both players also put up good numbers in the second half of 2013—Ramirez had a .727 OPS with five homers and 10 stolen bases and Viciedo had a .793 OPS and seven homers, as did Avisail Garcia (.775 OPS, five homers), who was acquired in the Jake Peavy deal.
Along with leadoff man Alejandro De Aza, who had 17 homers and 20 stolen bases in 2013, the Sox have some talented hitters in their lineup.
But they're still a long way to becoming a good hitting team.
Even if Abreu turns out to be the big-time power threat that the White Sox are hoping for, it's not likely that they'd be finished retooling their 2014 lineup. Here's a look at what the lineup would currently look like with the expected addition of Abreu.
Alejandro De Aza, CF: .728 OPS, 17 HR, 20 SB
- Alexei Ramirez, SS: .693 OPS, 6 HR, 30 SB
- Adam Dunn, DH: .762 OPS, 34 HR, 86 RBI
- Jose Dariel Abreu, 1B
- Dayan Viciedo, LF: .731 OPS, 14 HR, 56 RBI
Avisail Garcia, RF: .775 OPS, 5 HR
- Gordon Beckham, 2B: .694 OPS, 5 HR
Conor Gillaspie, 3B: .695 OPS, 13 HR, 40 RBI
- Tyler Flowers, C: .603 OPS, 10 HR
If the deal can be finalized, pursuit of a catcher could be next on Hahn's agenda. The left-handed hitting Brian McCann or one of Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Dioner Navarro, both switch-hitters with power, would be nice additions to the puzzle. Pursuing a third baseman, likely via trade, could also be part of the offseason plans. David Freese and Chase Headley could be available.