AL Central conducting experiment at first base

While the White Sox let Jose Abreu's current commitment play out, they can watch division rivals attempt to replace first-base production for cheap

Jose Abreu becomes a free agent at the end of the 2019 season, and the White Sox sound like they’re in no rush to extend him. In an open session with beat writers a week ago, Rick Hahn padded his word count while heading off the question.

You’ve had Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu for a while, but is this an important year for deciding whether they will be part of the contention window or not?

Hahn: No more than last year or next year conceivably would be. We have the ability to extend any player until they hit free agency. Then once they hit free agency, we have to compete with the other 29 clubs, but our history and relationship don’t necessarily put us at a disadvantage at that point either.

Both of those players are under control for another two years. There’s no urgency to figure out years three, four, five and beyond at this point. We’ll continue those conversations when appropriate.

While this story plays out, the bulk of the AL Central might be able to give the Sox a simulation of moving on from a fixture at first base. The Indians replaced Carlos Santana with Yonder Alonso early in the offseason, and the Royals joined them by signing Lucas Duda to a one-year, $3.5 million contract on Wednesday.

The Minnesota Twins aren’t quite in the same boat since Joe Mauer remains on hand for the last year of his contract. However, they did add a potential replacement by signing Logan Morrison earlier this week. The Twins landed Morrison on a one-year, $6.5 million deal that includes an $8 million club option for 2019. He’ll back up Mauer at first while serving as the most-time DH, but if he succeeds at Target Field, the Twins might have an easier-than-expected time moving on from their hometown hero.

In all cases, the new signings come at a fraction of the commitment:

Indians: Alonso for two years and $16 million, instead of Santana for three years and $60 million.

Royals: Duda for one year and $3.5 million, instead of Hosmer for eight years and $140 million.

Twins: Morrison for one year and $8 million, in place of Mauer at $23 million in the last year of his deal.

And in all cases, one can feasibly envision a scenario in which the teams see no drop in production for the cost … but it requires a bit of squinting to ignore the knock-off markings.

The Indians have Alonso, a recent loft-added triumph who unlocked his power by turning fastballs into fly balls. He outslugged and out-OBP’d Santana in 2017, which could make him a tremendous year-over-year bargain. On the other hand, he’s a lefty who needs a platoon partner, so that makes any rate stats comparison unfair since Santana takes on 100 more PA a year. Alonso also had an ordinary second half, which might mean that teams figured out how to water down his new recipe for success.

For the Royals, there’s this:

But injuries are a great way to distinguish one player from another. And again, Duda’s a lefty with a sub-.700 OPS against left-handed pitching over the course of his career. The same can be said for Hosmer, but he closed that gap last year while playing in all 162 games. Duda has just one season with more than 140 appearances.

And then there’s Mauer, who is coming off his best season as a first baseman, even if it’s an atypical hitting profile for one (.305/.384/.417, 36 doubles, seven homers). Morrison arrived at the same WAR neighborhood via a different route. He set career highs in homers (38) and slugging (.516) with plenty of room to spare in his age-29 season, and yet he could only get a one-year deal. Like Alonso, though, Morrison also slowed in the second half, and fastballs looked like his chief weakness.

The White Sox won’t reach the same crossroads until after the 2019 season, and given the coolness of the corner-infielder market this winter, it’s probably best to wait. Hahn recognizes Abreu’s intangible value; he’s said that clubhouse presence is the reason why there’s such a gap in valuation during brief trade talks. It’s just that the market doesn’t demand action, and the Phillies will point to Ryan Howard and tell Hahn to avoid extending a 30-year-old first baseman two years before it’s necessary.

In the meantime, those in the White Sox’ orbit can use the unbalanced schedule to bone up on the advantages and disadvantages of using a limited lefty power bat to replace an everyday first baseman. There’s probably some inefficiency to exploit, but there’s also probably so much corner one can cut at one corner.

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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katiesphil

I understand wait-and-see with Abreu, but still hope that he spends his career here. I suspect all three of these other guys discussed are going to ordinary or less.

Reindeer Games

Zips has Yonder Alonso projected for the same WAR as Hosmer and Duda as .2 worse. Both are interesting players that I would rather have on their salaries then Hosmer, who alternates good years and terrible years, on his.

katiesphil

I hear you. I’m not a big Hosmer fan. And I suppose their new teams are just hoping for “”ordinary” as opposed to “black hole.” And getting ordinary for cheaper.

Reindeer Games

Alonso and LoMo were top 15 at the position and Duda was good before he got traded to the Rays so they theoretically could get above average production for cheap.

Trooper Galactus

I don’t know what the hell is going on in San Diego, but that contract for Hosmer is just plain dumb. Best thing I can say about it is it’s about as well constructed as that big a contract can be for the team, but I don’t see him playing well enough to exercise his opt-out in five years.

PauliePaulie

Too soon to be posting links to stories containing the line “devastating achilles injury”, Jim.

Josh Nelson

This will brighten your day.

By brighten I mean dark, stormy clouds of rage and anger.

ParisSox

Curse of the Tatis.  This thing is going to haunt us for the next 20 years. 

ndsoxfan

This is why it is so stupid to draft the burger and sheets type players.  They are a dime a dozen in free agency and practically free in mlb dollars

Patrick Nolan

heh, honestly, this is not a bad point

Steinscribe

So, at least we can comfortably say that there is one position where we have the best player in AL Central by a wide margin. I do hope we keep Abreu for his entire baseball career. If we did it for Paul Konerko, who was good, not great, we should definitely do it for the guy who has averaged more than 30 home runs, crossed the 100 rbi line on bad teams, and hovered around .350 OBP every year of his career. Plus his hard contact in 2017 was the highest it has been so he’s not just the aging veteran we would keep around to teach the kids. Please extend him Hahn.