Cuban slugger Jose Abreu brings some pluses, but he has minuses, too
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN Staff Reporter October 18, 2013 9:04PM
General manager Rick Hahn (left, with manager Robin Ventura) says the addition of Jose Abreu doesn’t necessarily signal the end for Paul Konerko. | David Banks/Getty Images
Updated: November 20, 2013 6:13AM
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf are receiving deserved applause for taking a $68 million chance on Cuban slugger Jose Abreu. Some of it is reserved, however, because of the risk that comes with a player who has no major-league experience.
There are pros and cons about the six-year deal, which is expected to be announced soon.
The good: Abreu, who will be 27 on Opening Day, hits for big power — and average — and will fill impending voids at first base and in the middle of the order for the next six seasons. And he won’t cost the Sox a draft pick.
The Sox regained respect from the baseball world and from a wounded fan base that saw a tough-to-watch 99-loss season come to a close only three weeks ago. A half-dozen teams, including the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers, were in on Abreu, who chose the Sox for only a few dollars more than teams with better odds to win next season.
Adding Abreu, arguably the most attractive free agent on the market, makes an instant impact while fitting into Hahn’s plan to build a successful team for the long term. It follows the addition of 22-year-old outfielder Avisail Garcia, who came in the Jake Peavy trade that pared payroll and made moves such as the Abreu signing possible.
The bad: Some scouts had reservations about the 6-3, 250-pound Abreu’s ‘‘average’’ bat speed and his ability to hit hard stuff on the inner half of the strike zone and to adjust to offspeed pitches on the outer half. Abreu isn’t as athletic and fast as Cuban outfield stars Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes and is average, at best, defensively.
‘‘Cespedes and Puig kind of justified the money right away,’’ an American League scout said. ‘‘You hear a lot about Abreu’s not-great bat speed, but he has legitimate power. And the thing is, he’s experienced and polished, so he can step right in. And you hear good things about his makeup and personality.’’
Speaking of which, Abreu is the heir apparent to 37-year-old Paul Konerko, the No. 2 home-run and RBI guy in franchise history, whose production has fallen off his norms in the last season and a half.
The Sox aren’t thinking the signing of Abreu necessarily will signal the end for Konerko, who will talk with Reinsdorf and Hahn in November, as planned all along. They will find a place for him if he wishes, but they would have to find a way to carry three first basemen/designated hitters while wanting to field a roster that is more flexible than it was in 2013.
Three weeks ago, Konerko sounded like a guy who wouldn’t mind playing one more season. But that was before Abreu was in the picture, and he said then he only wanted to return if he fits.
‘‘We’ll talk through what Paul is feeling and how he wants to handle his future, as well as potentially the role he could conceivably play on the 2014 White Sox,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘We’ll handle [those conversations] . . . openly and honestly.’’
NOTE: General manager Rick Hahn said he expects to have a hitting coach within the next couple of weeks. Jim Thome isn’t believed to be a candidate.
◆ The Sox sent left-handed pitcher David Purcey outright to Class AAA Charlotte.