What if the White Sox didn’t extend José Abreu?

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 17: Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (79) celebrates a win with Tim Anderson (7) after the MLB baseball game between the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox on September 17, 2020 at Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago, IL. (Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire)

Last November, the White Sox issued the $17.8 million qualifying offer to José Abreu, and Abreu accepted it. That seemed like a natural conclusion to their months-long dance. Abreu put himself in line to receive a small raise after leading the league in RBIs, which might be fairer to him than an open market that has discriminated against 30something right-handed first basemen with draft compensation attached. Meanwhile, the White Sox would get another year to evaluate all of their first base/DH options.

Three weeks later, the White Sox effectively tacked on two years to the qualifying offer, handing Abreu a three-year, $50 million contract extension that appeared to be highly generous considering their leverage. The accounting isn’t quite that simple, because money was shuffled around a bit.

  • 2020: $11M (plus $5M signing bonus)
  • 2021: $16M
  • 2022: $18M ($4M deferred, paid out $1M annually from 2023 to 2026)

(It’s a time-honored tradition to defer $1 million annually to a White Sox first baseman. The Sox will finally be done paying Paul Konerko when they hand him his eighth and final $1 million installment on July 1, 2021. After a year off, the Abreu payments will begin.)

From here, Abreu is working on a two-year, $34 million deal, although you might be able to knock a million or so off that remaining sum when accounting for inflation against that deferred money.

The move was generally questioned at the time, with some people outright panning it, and others more wondering if the Sox weren’t properly prioritizing their payroll. Little did we know on Nov. 24, 2019, that Abreu would make it pay for itself with a season that deserves heavy MVP consideration.

Really, this could have been a helluva contract year. Had Abreu accepted the qualifying offer last year and the Sox left it at that, he’d be able to try to open market coming off a better performance, and without any free agent compensation attached. He’d probably be anywhere from the fourth- to seventh-best free agent, depending on how much you downgrade Marcus Semien for his down year and Marcus Stroman for opting out.

There haven’t been many good comps for Abreu in previous years, but a few winters ago, the Philadelphia Phillies handed Carlos Santana a three-year, $60 million contract following a 3.4 WAR season at age 31. Freed from the tyranny of the qualifying offer, Mike Moustakas found a four-year, $64 million deal from the Cincinnati Reds starting in his age-31 season, although he offered positional flexibility at second and third base.

In a standard 162-game-season world, it stands to reason that a 34-year-old Abreu could have found a three-year deal somewhere in that AAV, because he was on pace for a 7.5 WAR season himself over the 60 games afforded by the calendar.

Of course, he’s coming off a 60-game season because the pandemic more than halved the MLB calendar, and the short-term financial futures of the league and its clubs aren’t much clearer as the World Series approaches. The sport at least knows that it can make some sort of season work, but it’s unclear whether fans can be a part of it in any meaningful number, whether the league find it feasible to stage 162 games while minimizing travel, whether the expanded postseason will be here to stay, etc. As a result, there are probably going to be a lot of ramifications when it comes to building rosters, and how much teams are willing to spend on immediate upgrades when nobody’s clear what kind of season they’re anticipating on playing.

As for the White Sox, they didn’t really use the 2020 season to evaluate all their positionless bats, in part because they knew Abreu wasn’t going anywhere for the following two seasons. But if Abreu were on a one-year deal because the Sox didn’t to overextend themselves to an Abreu who was combating worrisome trends, would the White Sox have played Zack Collins, Yermín Mercedes or even Andrew Vaughn in order to gauge readiness in a year without the minor leagues? And, would they have shown enough to make the White Sox think about venturing in a different direction?

Take this overwhelming uncertainty and include the warm and fuzzy relationship between Abreu and the White Sox, and I’m guessing he’d come back to the White Sox for a similar amount he’s already signed for. Maybe he gets two years and $40 million with a club or vesting option and more deferred money, and in that scenario, a seemingly unnecessary contract extension now looks like it could save the White Sox a little money.

I didn’t expect that outcome at this point, and given that the deal was negotiated at the ownership level, it’s hard to say how the front office would’ve handled it if they set sentimentality aside. Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter. Everybody involved got to enjoy Abreu at his best during a miserable year for most everything not related to baseball, and everybody involved is relieved of the duty arguing over Abreu’s aging curve in the COVID era for the next two seasons. I’m not sure I’d give Jerry Reinsdorf credit for canniness, but there isn’t much use in keeping score when everybody wins.

(Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire)

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lil jimmy

I offer the name- Michael Hill for consideration as our next Manager. He has quite a resume. African American and Cuban decent. Went to Harvard. Experience across all facets of the game. A very impressive man.
Don’t wait Rick. Do it! Now!

asinwreck

If Arte Moreno can’t lure Dave Dombrowski from Nashville, I would not be surprised to see Hill as the Angels GM. Surviving Loria sounds like excellent training for being a Moreno employee, and Hill can offer this season’s adjustments to the coronavirus outbreak as an example of being able to deal with the kind of adversity that has plagued the Angels since the 90s.

When was the last time Hill had an on-field job? Managing would be a departure from the way his career has developed the past 20 years or so.

digger0910

Oh, man this would be very, very cool and I would be very, very stoked. Come on Rick — it doesn’t have to be AJ Hinch…

digger0910

Dan Jennings reminded me of Dan Johnson which reminded me to snag a coffee mug while a few were left (and a t shirt for my wife, and a t shirt for me). Thanks, Jim!

dwjm3

Why take a massive flier when you are right on the verge of contending? Part of the reason for firing Ricky was to mitigate risk. The risk being that he might flop again in a key stretch. Hill would be even more of a risk than keeping Ricky.

digger0910

Alomar would be my ideal if we could pry him from Cleveland. Agree Hinch is a safe bet, and maybe it’ll be him and maybe he’ll be fine or good or great. I guess it’s not pragmatic but there’s just so much feel good around our Sox right now. I don’t want any of that bad Astros vibe. Yes I get that we have Kuechel but the mental gymnastics to distinguish and like him were easier.

dwjm3

Personally I think Hahn should interview a lot a guys. I would interview Hinch, Alomar, and Bochy to name a few. I would interview Roberts as well if he becomes available.

MarketMaker

I hated the Abreu deal. Still think it made no sense at the time. Abreu had an incredible season. Will be interesting to see how MLB FOs discount a short season. What would have been the O/U on Abreu’s line for the last 100 games of a normal season?

karkovice squad

Kudos to Jose for getting paid to play where he wanted and more than delivering on his end of the deal.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

Josè is the White Sox post World Series. Pay him however much he wants for as long as he wants.

Amar

Sorry if this has been referenced already, but this is an interesting analysis on strength of MVP seasons according to Win Shares by Bill James.

https://www.billjamesonline.com/strong_and_weak_mvp_classes/

“ Players with 25 Win Shares can and do win MVP Awards sometimes, but generally don’t, because generally there are a few players in the league with 30+ Win Shares, and usually one of them will win.”

In 2020, AL leaders in Win Shares:
LeMahieu 12
Ramirez 11
Abreu 10
Trout 10

Anderson 7

dwjm3

Well we can scratch Roberts off our list. I can’t imagine they will fire him even if he loses the World Series

lil jimmy

nobody thought Ricky was getting fired.

dwjm3

True, but I can’t remember too many managers who were fired after losing a World Series

Hinch was for other reasons.

GoGoSoxFan

Johnny Keane’s Cardinals beat Yogi Berra’s Yankees in the 1964 World Series. Both were fired and Keane took over the Yankees for 1965.

GrinnellSteve

And he led the Yankees so far in to the wilderness that they couldn’t find their way out for 12 years.

GoGoSoxFan

Yep. What a glorious 12 years it was too.