In the 2019-2020 Major League Baseball offseason, White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was about to hit the free agent market for the first time in his career. Knowing that he preferred to stay in Chicago, the team extended him a one-year qualifying offer worth $17.8 million. It seemed that it would be a foregone conclusion that the 33-year-old would accept.
Apparently, there was a three-year contract offer also on the table, but Abreu decided to take the security of a hefty one-year salary. Shortly afterward, however, Abreu and the White Sox would hammer out a three-year contract worth $50 million. This new pact replaced the qualifying offer, and backloaded the salary; Abreu earned a $5 million signing bonus and $11 million in 2020. He’d earn $16 million in 2021 and $18 million in 2022.
Abreu is an above-average hitter. But, his bat is the extent of his value. In the baseball card hobby, though, he’s the kind of guy you’d expect to do well. That hasn’t really been the case. Despite a strong .284/.330/.530 batting line and 33 HR in 2019, his card market remained stagnant. But, in the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, Abreu put up an MVP-winning season with 19 HR in just 60 games with a .317/.370/.619 – a batting line that was 66 percent better than league-average. So, why are Abreu’s rookie cards still so cheap?
While Abreu actually has many official rookie cards, the one that usually stands out is 2014 Bowman Chrome. There’s also the 2014 Bowman Prospects Chrome Autograph. The auto is the card that seems to have held all the value. Still, why is a popular and productive player like Jose Abreu seeing his key rookie auto selling for $50 graded gem mint by Beckett after an MVP season in 2020? PSA graded copies aren’t that much more. The refractors and color parallels are performing better, but still his cards seem drastically underpriced.
Why Did the Hobby Forget Jose Abreu?
While hobby success doesn’t depend on WAR, it’s important to note that in the Steamer600 projections for 2020 at FanGraphs listed Jose Abreu 29th in expected WAR between Ryan McMahon and (gasp) Joe Mauer! This is while his offensive numbers suggest he should still be an active hobby presence. He has his collectors, but the more investment-minded folks have stayed away – far, far away. Of course, Abreu absolutely obliterated those projections, and while the hobby did notice, his cards have remained quite affordable in the wake of a successful 2020 season by the White Sox led by Abreu.
While WAR isn’t really the best measure for hobby success, and perhaps under-rates Abreu’s two tools – average and power – it does show us how far down the hobby pecking order that Abreu has become. Heck, even on his own team, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, and Lucas Giolito get far more attention. Prospect phenom Luis Robert became the White Sox starting center fielder, and while he didn’t quite live up to the hype, he was still a league average hitter for his position. Michael Kopech failed to return, but prospect Nick Madrigal was solid in his limited action, and top prospect Andrew Vaughn is on the cusp of the Major Leagues. Abreu seemed to be there as a veteran presence blocking Vaughn, in fact.
The White Sox certainly didn’t think of Abreu as an afterthought, and they proved to be right about him. After all, they valued him enough to offer him an average $16.33 million salary – which many people thought was an overpay. In a chilly free agent market for bat-only 1st baseman/DH types, it made sense for Abreu to be happy with this contract. After all, the Miami Marlins were rumored to be the only other team interested in Abreu’s service. So, the White Sox basically bid against themselves, yet it worked out well in their favor!
Personally, I hate the qualifying offer system. Abreu was basically forced to accept, knowing that the loss of a draft pick to sign him would’ve limited his market to teams that have protected top picks (such as the Marlins with their abysmal 2019 record). Also, if he rejected it this time around, he’d be eligible to be offered it again. So, in this case, both sides made an excellent decision.
What is Jose Abreu’s Best Rookie Card to Collect?
So, considering his obvious value to the White Sox and back of the baseball card numbers to warrant more hobby love (and a 2020 MVP AWARD), why are his key rookie cards so undervalued?
First up the base rookie card, the 2014 Bowman Chrome. It features Abreu in the follow through of his powerful right handed swing. He’s wearing a throwback White Sox jersey, white with blue and red stripes with SOX lettered in white. In the background, you can vaguely make out the opposing team’s dugout with two players standing against the railing. The auto version features the same picture, with the bottom third obscured to make room for the on-card auto.
The Bowman Prospect Auto Chrome #BCP-JAB only has 61 PSA 10 examples (out of 99) submissions. But on Beckett, there are 622 Gem Mint (BGS 9.5) examples out of 846 total submissions. So, it’s actually a plentiful graded card in Beckett slabs. From an “investment” standpoint, this Jose Abreu auto looks to be the best one to collect.
Does the Throwback Jersey Hurt Rookie Card Value?
While it’s a perfect decent looking card, the throwback jersey made me realize something. It’s not a regular white, grey, or black White Sox jersey, which many more recent Pale Hose fans are used to. What about cards where Abreu is wearing the black jersey with the white numbers and letters – more reminiscent of Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas?
Actually, the insert Rookie Autograph set in 2014 Bowman likewise features Abreu in that black uniform. Unfortunately, these prices are simply in place because they are rarer, as they don’t sell that much. When they have, though, it’s been at a bit higher price, which is what is holding up the asking prices. His Topps Chrome auto, which was actually a redemption, features him in a more traditional grey Chicago White Sox road jersey. It sells for a bit less than his Bowman Chrome auto. There are 243 BGS 9.5 examples and 56 PSA 10 examples, so there’s a good deal of interest in it.
One rookie card that caught my eye, though, is the Topps Heritage High Number. It has sold more consistently than the Bowman Chrome, especially raw copies. It’s a beautiful card, featuring the slugger smiling with his batting helmet off. As a fan of the Topps Heritage High Numbers in general, I can say that this is the card collectors seem to be gravitating towards. But, it’s time to look at the data and see what people really think.
What Do the Jose Abreu Rookie Card Populations Say?
The PSA Set Registry lists 31 cards for Jose Abreu’s rookie card set. As with many more recent players this list includes extremely rare Topps Dynasty autographs. We don’t really concern ourselves with those. But, there are still a plethora of options to choose from. But, interestingly enough, if we choose the key rookie card by graded population, it’s not Bowman Chrome.
The most PSA 10 graded examples belong to 2014 Topps “flagship” #496. Just as I was thinking, the cards featuring Abreu in the black White Sox jersey are indeed more popular. The Topps base rookie card features Abreu headed to first base, watching the ball presumably sail out of the ballpark. It’s a great card, as the picture gives a nice feel of momentum to it. That’s why action shots always seem to win in the hobby. As of mid-November 2019, there were 124 PSA 10 graded copies.
As for the 2014 Bowman Chrome? There are a mere 55 copies of the base card. It’s beat out by Topps Finest (also with the black jersey) at 99 copies, Allen and Ginter (interestingly with the same throwback jersey shot) at 74 copies, and the Panini Prizm (also black jersey) with 74 copies. Interestingly, the Topps Heritage High Number had a mere 26 PSA 10 examples (out of 43 submissions) with 3 BGS 9.5 examples.
But, when it comes to the Bowman Chrome Prospects Auto, it’s a very different story. There were a whopping 622 BGS 9.5 examples of the Prospect Auto, out of 846 total submissions. Also, there were 199 refractor BGS 9.5 examples out of 263 total submissions. That’s pretty impressive for a card limited to 500 copies. Yet, before the 2020 season, the refractors usually sold for $75 to $100, including the rarer colored refractors; one refractor sold for just $60 in January 2020! The base autos sold between $30-35, with some closer to $40.
Fortunately for Abreu card collectors, many of the rarer refractors shot up in the $300 to $400 range in November 2020, with even the base autographs selling over $75, with some copies selling north of $200. Still, these aren’t big sales numbers for a MVP award winner.
Why Were Jose Abreu Rookie Cards So Cheap?
The most simple answer I have for the relatively low price of even the more valuable Abreu rookie cards is that he’s not at all on track for the Hall of Fame. That may seem a bit unfair, as he spent many years playing in his home country of Cuba. At the end of 2020, though, he’s amassed 24 WAR in 7 seasons. The average Hall of Fame 1st baseman has 67 WAR. He’s been a great player, but he’s on pace for the Hall of Very Good, especially now at age 34.
According to BaseballGauge.com, Jose Abreu has a ZERO percent chance of making the Hall of Fame. For players’ rookie autos to get into the triple digit range, they typically need a strong shot at the Hall of Fame, or have had careers worthy of serious Hall of Fame consideration. Sadly, Abreu’s long-term rookie card audience is limited to White Sox fans and other fans of Jose Abreu himself.
Of course, Abreu’s graded autograph cards will probably see appreciation over time. But, if you’re looking for a strong investment, you’ll want to look at no-doubt hall of famers like Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera. Abreu has been a very good and fan favorite player, but you’ll only collect his rookie cards just for fun, not for long-term financial gain. Still, an MVP-winning season was good overall for Jose Abreu’s rookie cards, a bright spot for a surprising team in what was a Major League Baseball season marred by the coronavirus.