MORRISSEY: White Sox stirring to life with Jose Abreu signing
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org | @MorrisseyCST October 19, 2013 12:08AM
The Sox surprised observers by opening their wallet to the tune of $68 million for Cuban star Jose Abreu. | Koji Watanabe/Getty Images
Updated: November 21, 2013 6:49AM
The emails and tweets had been coming in regularly during the Cubs’ search for a new manager: Are you going to write anything this century about the White Sox?
My answer was consistent: Sure, just as soon as the Sox do something that might be considered interesting.
‘‘Interesting’’ arrived late Thursday night in the form of a $68 million pure hitter. The Sox and Cuban star Jose Abreu have agreed on a six-year deal that is the largest for a free-agent international player signing an American contract for the first time.
Wait, the Sox are dropping all that coin on an unproven player? The Chicago White Sox? Those Sox?
Yes, they are.
I don’t know if the Abreu signing will be a game-changer, the phrase of the moment in the business world. But it’s nice to see the Sox doing something bold. This wasn’t Trader Kenny Williams at work, making an in-season splash with limited resources during a playoff run. This was cold cash talking — a language in which the Sox haven’t always been conversant.
In other words, Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf deliberately lost his grip on the purse strings, with some convincing and finger-bending from general manager Rick Hahn.
Abreu is 26 and could play first base for the Sox, which might point to veteran Paul Konerko’s departure. But Konerko is one of Reinsdorf’s all-time favorite Sox, so who knows? It’s not a decision either side needs to make now.
Is Abreu a risk for the South Siders? Of course he is. No one knows the exchange rate when it comes to Cuban statistics.
He was spectacular in Cuba’s national league. In 89 games in 2009-10, he hit .399 with 30 home runs and 76 RBI. The next season, he hit a ridiculous .453 with 33 home runs and 93 RBI in 66 games. The last two seasons, he hit .394 and .382, respectively, with great power numbers.
Those are silly numbers. It was Abreu’s play in international competition that really made major-league clubs take notice. He stood out in just about every tournament in which Cuba took part, including the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
He defected to the United States in August, which probably brought tears of joy to Hahn’s eyes. I’d like to imagine Reinsdorf involved in international intrigue, complete with trench coat and safe houses, but that’s probably asking too much. It’s enough that he’s willing to sign such a big check.
Between Abreu and outfielder Avisail Garcia, Sox fans have reason to be excited. The team that couldn’t score runs for its pitching staff this season just got an upgrade in the middle of the order.
Is Abreu like countrymen Yasiel Puig (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Yoenis Cespedes (Oakland Athletics)?
He had better be. No pressure, kid.
It’s not all on him. The Sox have holes. Catcher comes immediately to mind. So does third base. Another starting pitcher would come in handy, as would more bullpen help. Let’s see how much money, if any, Hahn has to play with during the offseason. Maybe he can find another team to take Adam Dunn’s $15 million salary for next season. Maybe he can cure cancer, too.
But all of that is for later. For now, just know that the Sox were the most aggressive pursuers of a free agent whom lots of teams chased. How many times over the years have you heard them cry poor, blaming it on low attendance at The Cell?
The Sox knew they had to do something if they wanted to build interest after a moribund 2013. (If a Morey Bund had been on their roster, I wouldn’t have been surprised.) So here comes Abreu, provided he passes his physical. Whatever happens next season, it very much will be worth watching, which is a lot more than you could say about the Sox’ recently completed 99-loss season.
Abreu’s signing won’t end the eternal griping that the Cubs get more hype in Chicago. But there hasn’t been anything nefarious about the extra media attention on the North Siders these days. They were monumentally bad over two seasons. The Sox were boringly bad this season. Big difference. You couldn’t help but stare at the Cubs’ ongoing car crash and their attempts to clean up the mess. The Sox? There wasn’t a deader team in the majors. Maybe they were just plugging into the zombie craze.
They certainly came alive Thursday night. Now it’s their stage — until the Cubs hire some poor sap to be their manager.