Rumors Connect José Abreu To The Chicago Cubs — Should They Target Him?

Longtime White Sox first baseman José Abreu is at the end of a three year, $50 million contract and most likely headed for free agency. Headed into what will be his age-36 season, Abreu has said he would like to stay with the team that has been his home since he came to Major League Baseball in 2014. But the Sox might be ready to move on from him.

“How it fits going forward, that remains to be seen come this offseason,” general manager Rick Hahn told reporters earlier this month. “Obviously, there’s only so many different ways that you can fit various players on the roster, and José returning would have a ripple effect on others. But we’ll have to wait to see how things unfold and make those decisions accordingly.”

That’s not exactly a clear sign that Hahn intends to move forward with Abreu as a member of his team.

If that really proves to be the case, the good news for Abreu might be that he could still spend the next phase of his career in Chicago. Over the weekend, there were reports that the Cubs plan to be in on Abreu.

Bruce Levine of 670 AM in Chicago reported Saturday that Abreu was “high on the Cubs’ wish list” for the offseason, citing “multiple sources.” In many ways, Abreu would make sense for the Cubs, at least in the short term.

Abreu posted an .824 OPS last season, and though his power numbers were down some, he still hit 40 doubles and batted .304. Since trading Anthony Rizzo at the 2021 deadline the Cubs have hurt for production from first base. In 2022, the combined efforts of Cubs first baseman added up to a .626 OPS and 14 home runs. Abreu, in a down year, hit 15 by himself.

Free agency does not officially begin until after the World Series is over, so for now, the Sox have the advantage of being the only team that can negotiate with him. But it’s possible that, despite his loyalty to that organization, the frustration of the 2022 season was enough to push Abreu to at least look elsewhere.

In late August, with his team below .500 and several games behind Cleveland for the division lead, Abreu spoke to his personal efforts and hinted that his work ethic might not be getting matched by his teammates.

“I can’t talk for the rest. I just can talk for myself. I always prepare myself to do my best, every day,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what day of the year it is. I just prepare myself to give my best. The results in the games are the results, but you prepare to get the best results you can for the game. Of course, this probably hasn’t been my best season, but I still believe in the thing I can do and how I can perform. I know I can perform at a really high level.

“That’s all I can say. I can’t speak for the rest.”

If things align for the Cubs to sign Abreu, he is a good fit in many respects. He would provide the aforementioned productivity from first base that the Cubs have lacked. Abreu would also provide veteran leadership on offense for a team that has needed a bat to organize around since most of the core of the 2016 championship team was traded last summer.

Abreu does not have much postseason experience — just the 2020 wild card series and last year’s division series against the Astros — but he seems to be able to handle the demands of that stage. In 32 plate appearances in the playoffs so far, Abreu has batted .321 with an .871 OPS.

Since 2018, the Cubs have played just three playoff games and lost all of them. They managed only one run in 13 innings against the Rockies in the 2018 wild card, and they scored a single run in two games of the 2020 wild card series against the Marlins. Added offense in October games would be a boon for the Cubs offense.

In 2022, the Cubs scored 657 runs, good for 22nd in baseball. They batted .238 as a team, good for 19th in the league. Even in a down year for Abreu, he would help the offensive production significantly. Across his career, Abreu has consistently been good at producing runs. This year was the first time — other than the shortened 2020 season — that Abreu has hit under 20 home runs in a season. He drove in a career-low 75 runs this year, but this was the only time since an injury shortened 2018 campaign that Abreu has driven in under 100 runs in a full season. In his nine year career, Abreu has over 300 doubles and is approaching 250 home runs. The Cubs could definitely use a bat like his.

Financially, the Cubs should be in a great position to at least make a competitive, short term offer. They finished this year with a $146 million payroll and have some money coming off of the books for 2023. Their modus operandi lately has been to sign players to short deals with high value per year. Just last winter, they signed Marcus Stroman for three years, $71 million and Seiya Suzuki for five years, $85 million. Given where Abreu is in his career, a deal something like those would have to be appealing.