After watching Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes get rich quick, it seems logical that other Cuban sluggers would want to defect and sign with a Major League Baseball club, and that is exactly what Jose Dariel Abreu has done. Considering the money that is available to international free agents who are over the age of 23 and have played for more than three years professionally, Abreu is likely to get more money than Puig, who signed a seven-year, $42 million deal with the Dodgers, and, after watching the tremendous success of recent Cuban free agents, this is the official call for the Cleveland Indians to be all in.
Sure, the last thing that the club needs is another first baseman, which is where Abreu plays, but it would make some sense. The Tribe has quite a bit of roster flexibility that would allow the team to make another bold move in free agency.
Drew Stubbs, who is earning $2.83 million this season, is eligible for arbitration for the second time this offseason. While he provides tremendous skills defensively, he has hit an abysmal .240/.298/.360 with 111 strikeouts in 375 plate appearances. While his power and speed combination continues to make some teams salivate, his inability to make consistent contact makes the power nearly useless and the speed can’t play when he isn’t getting on base. Why give him a raise through arbitration when he hasn’t earned it? The club has two other solid defensive outfielders in Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley, so they can get more production from right field if they non-tender Stubbs this offseason.
Nick Swisher could slide into right field and occupy the designated hitter spot when he needs a day off. He has only played 19 games in right field in 2013, but he can still handle the position. Besides, when he is taking over the DH role, Ryan Raburn, who recently signed a two-year, $4.85 million deal, will make occasional starts.
The Indians currently rank 5th in runs scored, so signing Abreu, a right-handed power hitter, to put into the middle of the order would be a very wise investment.
Certainly, there may be cheaper options on the free agent market to bring more offensive skills to the Tribe lineup, as soon-to-be free agents include: Mike Napoli, Kendrys Morales, Justin Morneau, Michael Morse, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Beltran, and Hunter Pence; however, the Indians can continue a recent push in international spending by taking a more valuable gamble on a player in his prime, Abreu is 26 years old, rather than investing on players heading into their mid-30’s who will likely not be worth their contracts.
On Wednesday, the club signed Leandro Linares, a 19-year-old Cuban right-handed pitcher, to a $950,000 minor league deal (he was subject to the new international guidelines due to his age), so could the club be heading towards a more aggressive international approach?
This is the opportunity that the club needs to become an even bigger nightmare to opposing teams offensively.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler had these useful statistical tidbits:
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.
And for those who are worried about investing so much money into a player who hasn’t swung a bat in MLB, Grantland’s Jonah Keri reported:
Baseball Prospectus co-founder Clay Davenport devised a stat called Equivalent Average (EqA), which takes all of a hitter’s contributions (power, on-base ability, etc.), compares those results to league norms, and calibrates them on a scale that mirrors batting average. A .260 EqA is about average, .300 is very good, .350 is fantastic, .400 is astronomical…Miguel Cabrera was the best hitter in Major League Baseball in 2011. Jose Abreu, even after adjusting his numbers to reflect A-ball competition, blew Cabrera out of the water.
It is going to take a gamble and a lot of money to sign Jose Abreu. While the big spenders like the Dodgers (Adrian Gonzalez), Angels (Albert Pujols), Tigers (Prince Fielder), and Yankees (Mark Teixeira) have first basemen locked up, the Red Sox, Rangers, White Sox, Mets, Blue Jays, Mariners, and possibly the Marlins (who could get the Cuban star as part of their reinvention as a real baseball team, since they have all of the revenue money and aren’t really paying any players) will still compete for the slugger.
The Indians have other needs, primarily starting pitching help, but they will likely need to reach to the bottom of the barrel for arms once again, after whiffing on Brett Myers this past offseason. Although there are some useful arms (such as Tim Lincecum, A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Garza, Phil Hughes, Paul Maholm, Ricky Nolasco, and Ervin Santana), it may be wise for the Tribe to stick with Scott Kazmir (who may be willing to sign on the cheap since the Indians gave him a shot) and some of their young arms (Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and/or Carlos Carrasco) while aiming to outscore the opposition rather than shutting them out.
Jose Abreu would be an exciting acquisition, and after watching Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig have immediate success and huge followings, it is a move that needs to be made to make the Indians into a legitimate contender.