Jose Abreu had what may appear to be an off year by his standards in 2022, but in reality, he was probably the second-best hitter on the entire 2022-23 free agent market. In terms of expected wOBA, the stat which StatCast uses to predict a hitter’s true value by batted ball data, Abreu was second only to some guy named Aaron Judge in 2022. The Houston Astros clearly bought into the StatCast data, because not only did they give him a contract, they gave the soon to be 36 year old a three year deal worth $19.5 million per season.
It makes sense that the White Sox, who already have Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jimenez to share the 1st base and DH roles, would let Abreu walk. This is even with Abreu hitting .304, with a .378 on-base percentage, and strong .446 slugging percentage. That was good for a batting line 37 percent better than league average or a 137 wRC+. It was a far cry from his 2020 MVP season, 164 wRC+, but that of course was a shortened season.
Abreu was an obvious fit for the Astros, who watched fan-favorite Yuli Gurriel decline rapidly and Trey Mancini come in and not do much better. Meanwhile, the White Sox can end the Andrew Vaughn outfield experiment, which could’ve cost them nearly a win and a half of value if you believe the defensive metrics. So, the White Sox probably gain as much as they lose by letting Abreu walk, and they can reallocate what would’ve been nearly $20 million a year elsewhere to fill other holes, and they have many.
Of course, the Astros just won the World Series and first base was the only obvious hole. Abreu may have only hit 15 home runs last year, but of course, it’s the overall batting line production that the Astros care about. While he’s getting up there in age, he’s not showing any signs of age-related decline. FanGraphs and Steamer project Abreu for 2.4 WAR in 2023. Even factoring in a 0.5 WAR decline for each year of the contract (2.4, 1.9, and 1.4), that’s still worth the nearly $60 million that Houston is giving him. $58.5 million divided by 5.7 WAR is roughly $10.2 million a year, which is a bit over market value, but that’s a very conservative projection. He still fields the first base position well, too. The Astros can afford to pay a little over market value to keep first base from being a black hole, after all.
Also, it’s not like the Astros were bidding against themselves. I’m sure the White Sox were at least in talks to bring him back. The Red Sox were very interested, although I’m not sure that’s where a team that has multiple holes in the starting rotation and outfield should prioritize signing an aging Cuban slugger. Abreu is a good signing for the Astros, even if he falls off a bit, he’s better than the options they had last year.
Believe it or not, I hope that Abreu doesn’t sell out for more power in 2023 going forward. He should keep the same approach of gap power, as that’s a skill-set that ages much better. It’s also all the Astros really need, someone to just keep the line moving. This may be the best move of the off-season so far.