As Baseball America first reported, Jose Abreu, the premier offensive player in Cuba, has defected with the goal of trying to sign a contract to play baseball with a major league team.
Abreu, 26, would hit the market as a free agent and according to Baseball America, will be able to sign as a free agent “exempt from the international signing bonus pools.”
In other words, this power-hitting first baseman has a very lucrative longterm deal coming his way that may eclipse other Cuban defectors before him and greatly so. The bidding for Abreu will not be for the faint of heart.
For now, he’ll be busy establishing legal residency somewhere. He’s reportedly in Haiti for now, but some have speculated the Dominican Republic is where he’ll take up residency. It’s a process that could take 2-3 months which will likely make him the crown jewel of the Hot Stove season. But never mind all that, lets get to the meat and potatoes.
Here is some background from him straight from Baseball America:
At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Abreu is a physically imposing righthanded hitter with tremendous raw power to all fields, with astounding numbers in Cuba the last several years. He also ranked as the No. 4 prospect among players in the 2013 World Baseball Classic not already signed by an MLB organization.
This year in a Serie Nacional season interrupted by the World Baseball Classic, Abreu hit .382/.535/.735 with 13 home runs, 37 walks and 21 strikeouts in 42 games playing for Cienfuegos. Abreu led Cuba in home runs, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS while ranking second in batting average to earn all-star honors.
During the 2011-12 season, Abreu hit .394/.542/.837 with 35 home runs, 75 walks and 40 strikeouts in 71 games. Abreu led Serie Nacional in batting, OBP (by 63 points over Alfredo Despaigne), slugging (by 142 points over Despaigne) and OPS. Abreu was an all-star and ranked second in homers—only one behind Despaigne despite having 63 fewer plate appearances—although Despaigne still captured the MVP.
In 2010-11, Abreu won the MVP award after having one of the greatest seasons in Cuban history, despite missing 23 games due to bursitis in his shoulder. Abreu batted .453/.597/.986 in 293 plate appearances, blasting 33 home runs with 58 walks and 32 strikeouts. He led Cuba in batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS. He tied Yoenis Cespedes, now with the Athletics, for the league lead in home runs despite stepping to the plate 122 fewer times.
Abreu’s MVP season came one year after he finished third in MVP voting behind Despaigne and third baseman Yulieski Gourriel. Abreu batted .399/.555/.822 with 30 home runs, 74 walks and 49 strikeouts in 82 games that season to lead Cuba in OBP, slugging and OPS while ranking second in batting average and finishing one home run shy of Despaigne for the league lead in homers.
While posting some of the most prodigious offensive numbers in Cuba over the last four years, even more impressive than Yasiel Puig, Abreu is just now about to enter his prime production years. His potent righthanded bat would be in the middle of any major league lineup and nobody questions that. His impact on the game will be immediate and immense.
He loves to dig in at the plate and while he has an excellent approach, he pairs it nicely with his aggressiveness, which makes up for his average bat speed. Despite that he makes consistently great contact and is dialed in during every at-bat. His quick and instinctive skills as a hitter make up for and concerns with his bat speed as most scouts will tell you.
So where do the Mets fit in here?
I’m afraid that history has never shown Sandy Alderson to be the type of GM who will go all out and beat out all bidders to fetch a prize like this. This is not one of those “we’re gonna wait out the market” types of situations which is more akin to Sandy’s style. Which ever team lands this incredible talent will be the one that is the most aggressive in their pursuit and will offer up the richest possible bounty.
So far, we’ve yet to learn which agent will represent this new Cuban sensation, but once that happens this won’t be a long and drawn out process, rather it should be a rather quick winner take all bonanza.
One thing that will certainly affect Abreu’s final decision is that he immediately hits the ground running in the majors with no minor league stopovers to get acquainted with the American style of the game.
The teams that will likely be heavily engaged in the bidding war will no doubt feature the usual suspects like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels and I bet the St. Louis Cardinals will have more than a passing interest. But one insider expects as many as 12 teams to dip into the pool.
The Mets, well they have their first baseman of the future Ike Davis who is walking up a storm… Sorry bad joke… I’m just still so amazed at those who still envision Davis as an everyday all-star caliber power-hitting first baseman despite the fact his advanced metrics say otherwise.
Additionally, Sandy and his purported millions he now has to spend, will likely be looking more at outfielders and perhaps a shortstop as long as he has Davis as well as Wilmer Flores, Josh Satin and Allan Dykstra in tow.
I’ll say one thing, whoever does get Abreu, will no doubt be adding a 30+ home run bat into their lineup who has a great eye at the plate and has always produced a high average and on-base percentage. His strikeouts are low which is surprising for a player with such power, but that’s just another reason why scouts deem him to be such a unique and special talent.
One more thing that will make Abreu such a prime target is something else Baseball America pointed out and that is one of the weakest free agent markets we’ve ever seen for first basemen – with Mike Napoli being the top dog.
By the way, if only people would just warm up to my idea of putting Ike Davis on the block because of the upcoming demand for first basemen. We could probably get more than we would in a normal offseason if we were to strike now while the iron’s hot. You see what I did there?
Anyway, as much as Abreu would fill a huge power void in the Mets lineup and finally solve the question of who is our first baseman of the future, I just don’t see the Mets having the stomach to shell out the millions it’s going to take to land this 26-year old phenom who will likely be the most exciting new player of 2014 and beyond. This one is going to be big.