White Sox general manager Rick Hahn described Tuesday as a good day but the seven other teams who lost out on Jose Abreu might beg to differ.
The White Sox finalized a bold move as they signed the Cuban first baseman to a six-year, $68 million deal.
The contract, a record amount for a first-time international player, surpasses the previous highs of $60 million given to the Texas Rangers’ Yu Darvish and $42 million paid to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yaisel Puig.
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Abreu -- who receives a $10 million signing bonus as part of the deal -- is set to earn $7 million in each of the next two seasons. He will earn $10 million in 2016, $10.5 million in 2017, $11.5 million in 2018 and $12 million in 2019.
Though early estimates in August suggested bidding for Abreu, who one American League scout said is the best pure hitter to come from Cuba, might reach $50 million, the competition proved greater, said the slugger’s agent, Barry Praver.
Eight teams had heavy interest in Abreu over the two-week process, including five whose bids exceeded $60 million, Praver said.
“They were all seriously involved,” Praver said. “Don’t ask me how the White Sox got to where they got to. That was their internal process. But they did what they had to do to sign the player.”
The team’s process was lengthy and began shortly after word arrived Abreu had left Cuba in August.
Executive vice president Kenny Williams traveled to the Dominican Republic to attend one of Abreu’s workouts in September. Marco Paddy, the club’s head of International Operations, had scouted Abreu many times during international play. Others poured through hours of video to evaluate Abreu’s game.
While some scouts wonder if the player’s bat speed will hurt him and others note he must acclimate to a new culture, the White Sox came to the conclusion Abreu is worth the risk. They believe Abreu along with July’s addition of Avisail Garcia and other moves to come can help turnaround quickly an offense that slipped to last in the American League in runs scored in 2013.
“When you make a sizeable investment in a premium free agent it comes with some sort of potential for downside,” Hahn said. “It’s really a matter of choosing: Are you going to sit and do nothing, which is the safest route, or are you going to try to aggressively address your needs? While yes there is some risk making a commitment to a player who hasn’t played in the states, it’s a calculated risk. It was one we felt we had to take. If we’re going to get this thing right and we’re going to do it as quickly as we want it done and quickly as White Sox fans want it done we’re going to have to be bold. We’re going to have to be aggressive. … The alternative is standing still and that’s not something we’re interested in.”
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Another set of factors that allowed the White Sox to pull the trigger was Abreu’s potential talent versus what’s out there.
Aside from several gems, the 2014 free agent class is relatively thin. The group includes second baseman Robinson Cano and catcher Brian McCann, both of whom are in their 30s and expected to command long deals. While both players should put up quality years at the start of their deals, there’s an inherent risk for decline at the back end of those contracts.
Abreu is 26 and would be 32 when his contract expires. He also comes without the forfeiture of draft picks and didn’t cost any additional players.
“There was a lot that was appealing about his situation much less the talent level he brings,” Hahn said.
Abreu said multiple factors played a part in his decision, including fellow Cubans, Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo. He believes their presence would help his transition to the major leagues. Abreu, who will wear No. 79, also spoke of the team’s long tradition of Cuban players and mentioned Minnie Minoso.
“I know there were other teams interested, but the support I would have from Cuban players like Alexei and Dayan, and the fact that from the beginning the White Sox were interested and showed interest, once the final decision came down to where’s it going to be, it was the White Sox,” Abreu said through a translator. “It was pretty simple for me to say. The support and them being interested, it showed I wanted to be with the White Sox.”