If the Cubs had one bullet to fire during the offseason, they weren’t going to use it on Jose Abreu, the rare big name on the international market they didn’t covet.
The Cubs already made a $41 million commitment to Anthony Rizzo and didn’t need a 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound first baseman/designated hitter guaranteed to spark a bidding war once the U.S. government cleared the Cuban defector.
The White Sox gave Abreu the largest contract in franchise history last October. Six years and $68 million looks like a deal – even with Abreu able to go to arbitration after the first three seasons – now that a monster April made him the American League’s player and rookie of the month.
“Very impressive,” Rizzo said Monday at Wrigley Field. “Especially coming over and having to basically learn everything over here in the States. To do what he’s done early is very impressive. It’s fun to watch him.”
The Cubs kept their “powder dry” for Masahiro Tanaka and rolled the savings over to next winter once the Japanese ace predictably signed with the New York Yankees for seven years, $155 million, an opt-out clause and no-trade rights.
At the age of 27, Abreu set major-league rookie records with 10 homers, 32 RBI, 19 extra-base hits and 71 total bases through April.
“He certainly has some pop,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s able to drive the ball out of every part of the ballpark. He definitely has some strength. He’s someone you need to be careful with and we’ll certainly do our best.”
Cubs fans have to hope Scott Boras is right. When the super-agent gave his State of Boras Corp. address at the winter meetings, delivering the “All-Day Sucker” line about the rebuilding at Wrigley Field, he went on an Abreu tangent and compared the Cuban slugger to Kris Bryant.
“What I’m mystified by is that Major League Baseball missed a huge opportunity,” Boras said in December. “We have a player in Kris Bryant that, talent-wise, power-wise, and because of his skill set defensively, exceeds that of the first baseman across town.
“And one gets nearly $70 million, and the American player gets $7 million. And if you don’t think something is wrong with the system, then something is wrong with the recruiting (incentives in) the game.”
Boras ripped the collective bargaining agreement that has handcuffed Theo Epstein’s front office and shredded parts of The Plan. Bryant is (obviously) a Boras client who got drafted No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego last year and started this season at Double-A Tennessee by putting up six homers, 15 RBI and a .960 OPS in his first 29 games.
“When you have a power hitter and you have extraordinary talent, we want to tell all the young kids that there’s this big reward for you to play baseball,” Boras said. “And we have certainly said that they want to save money on entry, but it didn’t work because all the money they saved went to foreign players and the American players are not justly served.
“Ironically, in the same city, (Bryant and Abreu) serve the example of the injustice of the system.”
Someday, the Cubs hope the middle of their order will revolve around Bryant and Rizzo (and people won’t be second-guessing the decision to trade Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres and pass on Abreu).
Rizzo began the day hitting .294 with six homers, 16 RBI and a .421 on-base percentage. In the city’s changing of the guard at first base, Rizzo also paid respects to Paul Konerko, who got traded twice before becoming a fixture on the South Side and will retire at season’s end.
“He’s definitely someone I’ve been told a lot about,” Rizzo said. “He struggled early when he came up as well, (but) he’s a great person and he’s a great baseball player. It’s kind of tough seeing him leave the game, but he’s had a great career.”