Padres, Guardians, Astros Among The Best Fits For Jose Abreu

Jose Abreu is headed toward a real run at free agency for the first time. The 2020 American League MVP remains a consistent run-producer even though he just wrapped up his age-35 season.

The White Sox’s reported decision to walk away from Abreu is related more to their desire to move Andrew Vaughn to first base and improve their outfield defense than Abreu’s 50-percent decline in home runs, from 30 in ’21 to 15 last season.

Abreu has generated 3-plus WAR in seven of his nine major-league seasons, including each of the last three. Improved fielding at first base contributed to a 4.2 rWAR this season, his best in five years. His .824 OPS ranked fifth among 18 qualifying first basemen last season, behind only Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Pete Alonso and emerging Ranger Nathaniel Lowe.

There was a report over the weekend from Chicago WSCR’s Bruce Levine that the Cubs are intrigued by their fit with Abreu, who might prefer staying in Chicago to moving into a new market. But would the Cubs really turn to Abreu when their closest-to-the-majors impact prospect is power-hitting first baseman Matt Mervis? Are they really at a point when Abreu would help make them competitive?

We’re still a few weeks away from the start of free agency. Here’s an early look at some of the best possible fits for Abreu, including with a handful of teams still fighting to reach the World Series:

PADRES — Owner Peter Seidler and architect A.J. Preller swallowed almost $37 million in Eric Hosmer’s remaining salary to acquire Juan Soto and Josh Bell. But there will be a void at first base if the Padres don’t re-sign one of two veterans headed to free agency, Bell and Brandon Drury, or surprisingly exercise Wil Myers’ contract option. Signing Abreu for two or three years looks like an attractive option for a team that has already invested $740 million to lock up Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Joe Musgrove.

GUARDIANS — Is it time for the Dolan ownership group to add a big bat to a lineup that was basically league average in 2022? The Guardians were 29th in home runs this season, and Abreu’s improved fielding (+4 DRS over the last three seasons per Fangraphs) could make him a good fit for a team known for run prevention. The left-handed-hitting Josh Naylor and Abreu could make a dynamite first-DH combination. Oh, and there’s money to spend, with only $18.8 million owed to signed players next season.

ASTROS — Abreu looks like an almost automatic upgrade over what Houston got from fellow Cuban Yuli Gurriel and Trey Mancini this season. Gurriel is headed into free agency, so the key for the Abreu market is whether Astros GM James Click exercises a $10-million option to keep Mancini, who hit 18 homers while compiling a .710 OPS. Abreu would fit in nicely among Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, and the Astros’ positioning as perennial contenders would make Houston attractive to Abreu.

YANKEES — Forget about this option if Aaron Judge re-signs. But Abreu could enter the picture if Judge signs his record contract elsewhere. Anthony Rizzo has one year left on his deal with the Yankees, and has shown the ability to cope with recurring back problems. But Abreu represents valuable insurance for Rizzo and primary DH Giancarlo Stanton, who could play right field more if Judge leaves. Payroll flexibility isn’t an issue, and that will be even more true if Judge finds the grass greener elsewhere.

GIANTS — Brandon Belt has been San Francisco’s primary first baseman for 11 seasons but appears on the verge of retiring due to chronic pain in his right knee. J.D. Davis is penciled in as the replacement but look for the ownership group to be aggressive in trying to catch the Dodgers and Padres. Belt and the other first basemen were 24th in the majors with a combined .658 OPS this year. Abreu represents a major upgrade and would be an instant favorite with the Giants’ fan base.

TWINS — Carlos Correa is expected to opt-out of his contract, and the Twins appear to be at the end of the line with Miguel Sano, whose fate is tied to a club option. Abreu is very similar to Correa as a hitter/run-producer and could provide a convenient replacement. The Twins have an array of internal options to replace Correa, the most likely being Jorge Polanco returns to short and either Luis Arraez or Jose Miranda take over at second base.