SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – After watching what Cuban defectors Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes did in their debut seasons I can understand if you caught yourself daydreaming about what Jose Abreu could bring to the lineup as the Pirates’ first baseman.
You weren’t alone. Said Neal Huntington in August: “We like him.” The Pirates scouted him for several years and believe he will hit and hit for power. He could be a .270, 30-homer hitter.
Abreu is the latest Cuban slugging talent and is the most intriguing and exciting name on an otherwise uninspiring list of free agent basemen. But it’s time to cross him off the Pirates’ wish list.
Jose Abreu finalizing terms on six-year, $68M deal. Club expected to be #WhiteSox. Deal will be largest first-time contract for int’l player
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 18, 2013
The Pirates did like Abreu. Huntington said they liked him but added “it will be interesting to see where the bidding goes.”
The bidding went north of Cespedes and Puig territory. And that is apparently not a risk the Pirates are willing to take. Huntington declined to comment on Abreu today.
With the new television money coming into the game, with the attendance spike and increase in ticket prices for 2014 the Pirates could afford a 6-year, $70 million deal. But the more important question is this: is that a smart investment?
Consider Cespedes signed for $36 million over four years and Puig signed for $42 million over seven years. My sense is the industry is willing to overpay now, not wanting to miss on the next big Cuban import. There is still a lot of uncertainty in regard to Cuban prospects due to the lack of elite competition they play. Some scouts worried Abreu has slider batspeed. Oakland scouted Cespedes heavily to develop confidence in giving him such a contract. There’s also a cultural transition to consider.
But the Davenport statistical translations were very high on Abreu:
The Davenport translation on Abreu for his year w/ biggest sample: .321/.446/.660. The DT for Cespedes .271/.338/.489 (real: 265/.324/.472)
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) October 11, 2013
Close but no Cuban
Still, Abreu is on the cusp of a contract nearly doubling the average annual value of that of Cespedes and Puig. And Abreu is not a five-tool talent, rather he is a bat-only player who might even be a liability at first base judging by all the interest has come from the league with the DH.
Maybe the Pirates would have been players at $40-$50 million, but $70 million appeared to price them out of the market. And that might not be a bad thing considering the generally spotty history of Cuban defectors.
So now what? First base is a gaping void with no obvious internal answer.
The Pirates are not likely to tender Garrett Jones or resign Justin Morneau. As Tim Williams noted at Pirates Prospects, James Loney could be cheap platoon alternative. Loney has a career .791 OPS vs. RHP. He’s an excellent defender and on team which had a strikeout problem last year, he struck out in just 12 percent of his at bats. Most important he made just $2 million last season. The Pirates did not seem to have much interest in Kendrys Morales at the deadline and Mike Napoli might be too pricey.
PIRATES 2013 DRAFT RATED NO. 1
In case you missed it Baseball America has rated the Pirates as having the best draft after early impressions thanks mostly to the encouraging debuts of first-rounders Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire.
McGuire was rated as the best defensive propsect in the class by Baseball America, Meadows the third best pure hitter.
Baseball Amercia on McGuire: “McGuire stands out behind the plate where his athleticism, tools and high baseball IQ are all evident. He blocks and receives well, and he handles a pitching staff with maturity beyond his years. He has an above-average arm that plays up because of his quick transfer and accuracy. He threw out 16 of 36 basestealers (44 percent). If McGuire can hit he’s a potential All-Star. He impressed league observers with his bat, ranking third in batting average. He has a smooth left-handed swing and good bat speed.”
On Meadows: “Showed off a mature hitting approach and the ability to drive the ball with authority …. A patient hitter with a smooth, easy swing. He has swing-and-miss tendencies but it’s not excessive.”
JOSH BELL, BREAKOUT?
MLB.com’s Jim Callis likes Josh Bell as a breakout candidate in 2014.
Bell has rare power for a switch-hitter and was highly regarded in the 2010 draft before injury derailed his 2012 season.