The Astros strike a deal with free agent first baseman Jose Abreucorresponding USA Today’s Bob NightengaleWith Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal Confirmation Abreu and the club agree on a deal. nightingale says It’s expected to be for a three-year deal, although the finances aren’t public yet. Jon Heyman of the New York Post says it will be about $20 million a year, which puts the guarantee close to $60 million.
Abreu, who turned 36 in January, has so far spent his entire big league career with the White Sox, but it seemed likely as the season wound down that they were ready to let him change jerseys in 2023. With many other first base/designated hitter candidates on the list, such as Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jimenezwas the thought that they would let Abreu go and use their resources elsewhere, which has now apparently come true.
Though the Sox seemed ready to let him go, he continues to have stellar results on the plate. In 2022, he seemingly gave up a bit of power for a more contact-oriented approach, but still to great effect. His 15 home runs were the lowest of his career, but so was his 16.2% strikeout rate. The result was a batting line of .304/.378/.446 that was 37% better than the league average as evidenced by his 137 wRC+.
This was his ninth MLB season in which Abreu posted a wRC+ of 114 or higher in each season. In 2020, he rose to 164 and was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player for that truncated season. Despite the drop in performance this year, he has been one of the best players in the league over the past decade. He has held a 139 career wRC+ since debuting in 2014, with only 11 players achieving a higher such number over that period. Given his generally solid work on the record but his relatively old age, MLBTR predicted he would secure a $40 million two-year contract, or $20 million per season.
The Astros excelled in 2022, winning 106 regular season games and then storming through the playoffs to their second World Series title. First base was actually one of the few weak points in the squad since Julia Gurriel suffered through a bad year on the record. After hitting 0.319/0.383/0.462 in 2021, it collapsed to 0.242/0.288/0.360 this year. The association acquired Trey Mancini on the deadline to try to strengthen the position but it didn’t really work as he only hit 0.176/0.258/0.364 after the deal. Both players reached free agency at the end of the season, leaving Abreu a vacancy. That signing potentially ends Gurriel’s seven-season tenure at Houston unless he is willing to return in a lesser role as pinch-hitter and occasional hitter-designate.
The Astros recently parted ways with general manager James Click following a disagreement between him and owner Jim Crane. It appears Crane is in no rush to replace Click, taking over baseball decisions and seemingly content to continue doing so into the new year. Despite the unusual front office situation, they continued to be quite active, hiring signings Raphael Montero and now add Abreu, both on three-year contracts.
As for finances, the Astros currently have a 2023 payroll of about $163 million and a competitive balance sheet tax number of about $178 million per roster resource. Her opening-day payroll was $175 million last year and $188 million in 2021, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Assuming Abreu’s contract is in the projected range of about $20 million per season, that would take her payroll to over $180 million and her CBT count to nearly $200 million. Though they’re nearing their previous highs on spending, it stands to reason they can step it up a bit this winter after a championship run and all the extra income that comes with it. As for the CBT, the lowest threshold for 2023 will be $233 million, leaving them plenty of room even if they plan to avoid exceeding it.
For the White Sox, this marks the end of an era that lasted nearly a decade. Vaughn is a natural first baseman whose attempts to move to the outfield have gone poorly. He scored -16 outs above average on the field in 2022, the lowest mark of any outfielder in the league that year. His -10.5 Ultimate Zone Rating was also the lowest for an MLB outfielder in the season, while his -14 defensive runs saved ranked among the top five worst. However, he hit .273/.323/.433 and produced a wRC+ of 115 while he was only 24 years old. The Sox are certainly hoping he can achieve even better results as he continues to acclimatize to MLB pitching, especially without having to worry about his outfield defense going forward. For the Astros, their lineup was already extremely strong and included people like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Jordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. They’ve now added one of the best racquets in the league as they look to defend their World Series title next year.
There’s more to come.