Jul 1, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (79) during the ninth inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Alongside the imminent departure of Jacoby Ellsbury, one of the major issues surrounding the Red Sox at last offseason’s advent was the first base situation. Mike Napoli had slashed .259/.360/.482 en route to a World Series title for the Red Sox, but it was Napoli’s contract year and Cuban defectee Jose Abreu was on the free agent market. Everybody had heard tales of the tremendous power in Abreu’s bat but he was unproven and some scouts questioned whether he would be able to catch up to big league pitching.
Still, there was undoubtable potential for Abreu to become a monstrous power bat and anchor the middle of a team’s lineup for years to come. With that in mind and a lack of big power bats in the Red Sox’ organization, the Red Sox were heavily invested in the Abreu sweepstakes.
In a move that nobody expected, however, it was the Chicago White Sox who grabbed Abreu on a 6 year/$68M contract on October 29th.
Two days later, the Red Sox won the World Series.
Keeping the 2013 team’s interests in mind, the Red Sox remained loyal to Napoli so as not to cause dissent in the clubhouse on the brink of a title. The Red Sox would stay loyal to Napoli that winter, signing the 32-year old to a 2 year/$32M deal. However, while going with the “win now” move was undeniably right then (how often is a team one game away from winning the World Series?), it’s hard to argue that signing Napoli over Abreu is still the right move today.
The Red Sox currently sit in last place in the AL East with a 39-50 record and the major culprit of that has been an anemic offense. After scoring the most runs in baseball last season, the Red Sox rank just 25th in MLB this time around. A Red Sox team would not necessarily be winning the division with Jose Abreu hitting cleanup, but there’s no question that the team’s offense would be significantly improved, particularly their power numbers (the Red Sox’ .366 slugging percentage is 27th in baseball).
By no means has Mike Napoli been a problem in the Red Sox’ offense. He hasn’t been spectacular but there’s nothing wrong with the .264/.387/.436 slash line that he has posted in 2014, but the Red Sox still would have gained so much more production with Abreu in the lineup.
In his rookie season, Abreu is flat-out crushing the ball with a line of .275/.324/.611 with 27 home runs and 69 RBIs, leading the league in slugging percentage. He has already cemented himself as one of baseball’s premier power hitters and is strongly considering representing the American League in this year’s Home Run Derby, a sight that many baseball fans would love to see. It would be easy to make the argument that injecting that bat into the Red Sox lineup would have added some life and confidence throughout the lineup and, while the Red Sox probably still would not be a playoff team, they would at least be in contention.
Plus, there’s the issue of the future. Aside from Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox really don’t have many young power bats slated to emerge in the next few seasons. Additionally, they don’t have much depth at first base other than Travis Shaw and 2014 second-rounder Sam Travis, neither of whom project to be stars at the position. Abreu is only 27 years old and may still have his best years ahead of him in terms of power production, meaning that he could have potentially batted in the middle of the order throughout the duration of the “next great Red Sox team.”
Hindsight is 20/20, but in retrospect it is clear that the Red Sox should have gone all-in on Abreu. A recent report claimed that the Red Sox may have been as little as $5M away from signing Abreu, but it’s a decision that the Red Sox will have to live with as Abreu develops into a star slugger in Chicago. He would have added a big power bat not just in 2014 but for years to come and that’s a big loss for a Red Sox team that could be rebuilding for the next couple of seasons. You win some and you lose some when it comes to free agents, and the Red Sox non-move on Abreu certainly falls in the latter camp.