Red Sox Rumors: José Abreu was top outside target before Astros signing

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 09: Jose Abreu #79 of the Chicago White Sox bats against the Oakland Athletics in the top of the first inning at RingCentral Coliseum on September 09, 2022 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 09: Jose Abreu #79 of the Chicago White Sox bats against the Oakland Athletics in the top of the first inning at RingCentral Coliseum on September 09, 2022 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox missed out on a top free-agent target José Abreu

Re-signing Xander Bogaerts and locking up Rafael Devers with an extension are the top priorities for the Boston Red Sox this winter, but improving upon this year’s dreadful last-place finish requires more than simply retaining their core duo.

Boston needs to upgrade their roster with pieces from outside the organization to succeed in a highly-competitive AL East division, and Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom’s quest to find said missing pieces is off to a bumpy start. According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, José Abreu was Boston’s top outside target before he signed with the Houston Astros. The Red Sox reportedly met with Abreu as soon as free agency opened but they were unable to lure him to Fenway.

The former Chicago White Sox star would have been an appealing option to fill the designated-hitter role now that the declining J.D. Martinez has also hit the free-agent market. Abreu is a three-time All-Star and he won AL MVP during the shortened 2020 season. He’s coming off another productive season in which he finished fifth in the AL with a .304 batting average and 13th with a .834 OPS.

A sudden decline in power was a question lingering over Abreu as he entered free agency. His home run total dipped to a career-low 15 this season, half of what he produced in 2021. For a player with five 30+ homer seasons on his resume, the power outage is a notable concern.

However, his elite Statcast data provides optimism that Abreu isn’t in decline. He still ranked in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity and 97th percentile in Hard Hit percentage, per Baseball Savant. Abreu is still hitting the ball hard and his 24.0 flyball percentage is actually above his career rate. The balls he hit in the air weren’t leaving the park as frequently. One reason for this could be his launch angle that dropped from a career rate of 10.4 to a career-low 8.0 this season. A lower launch angle led to fewer barrels, which decreased the odds of a home run. Abreu still makes hard contact at a high rate and piled up 40 doubles, the sixth most in the AL and the most he’s tallied since 2017.

It’s clear why the Red Sox identified Abreu as a target. Even if his power numbers don’t bounce all the way back, this guy can still flat-out rake. He would have been a formidable addition to the middle of the Red Sox lineup.

Critics will be quick to blame Bloom for failing to land one of his top free-agent targets. Reports that the team was “interested” in a player they weren’t able to sign will only frustrate a fanbase eager to see their team make a splash. However, there are a couple of factors to consider before passing judgment on Boston’s front office.

For one thing, we don’t know what the Red Sox offered when they met with Abreu or if they ever officially submitted an offer. According to AP News, Abreu signed with the Astros for three years totaling $58.5 million. It’s a significant commitment to a player who turns 36 years old in January. Abreu is older than Martinez, the DH they seem willing to let walk due to concerns that his skills are deteriorating.

Perhaps an offer of $60 million would have been enough. It’s a lot to pay for a player who would primarily be a DH, but sometimes out-bidding to an uncomfortable level in free agency. If the Sox did offer something close to what Houston is giving Abreu but weren’t willing to go the extra inch to get the deal done, Bloom’s negotiating tactics won’t be well received in Boston.

Assuming that Bloom failed to get his guy because the Sox were too cheap to pay what Abreu is worth overlooks arguably the most important factor. We know Boston was interested in Abreu. What if Abreu wasn’t interested in them?

The Red Sox don’t have a clear opening at first base with the emergence of Triston Casas, along with the veteran Eric Hosmer to back him up, so presumably, Abreu would have needed to accept a full-time DH role. In Houston, Abreu will replace Yuli Gurriel – who appears likely to depart in free agency – as the primary first baseman. If spending most of his time on the field at first base was a priority for Abreu, Houston is a better fit.

Abreu is nearing the end of his career. He’s only played in the postseason twice, never advancing further than the ALDS with the White Sox. If winning a ring is one of his goals, it would be tough to pass on an offer from the reigning World Series champions in favor of a Red Sox organization that has so many questions about the roster that would be built around him.

Maybe the Red Sox didn’t miss out on their top free-agent target because Bloom was being cheap. Maybe the Red Sox never really stood a chance once the Astros flashed their championship trophy as the bait to lure him in.

Next. 5 worst free-agent contracts in Red Sox history. dark