The Jose Abreu Quandary
As the 2022 White Sox season ambles to an eventual halt, shy of the playoffs, we as fans are left with many questions about this team, this core, this organization. One such question and really the singular that is top of mind for me is what to do about Jose Abreu?
I don’t really need to re-summarize the entire Jose Abreu tenure for the White Sox to most of yous. He’s been great, even after people didn’t think he’d still be great. I wrote a seminal (for the 108) blog about Jose’s 3 year $50 million contract that was signed after the 2019 season that has it’s deal expiring now. That blog is HERE.
It put me on the map with lots of yous who wouldn’t be reading this blog if it were not for that one. In that blog I detailed some cold hard analysis and tried to determine if I thought the contract would be fair and work out for the White Sox. I thought it would and it did. I even undershot it by quite a bit. Let’s look at Abreu’s value below and see how well the White Sox did with that deal. We’ll use the standard $8M per WAR calculus and measure out what that looks like.
That’s a gigantic amount of excess value that MVPito has provided the White Sox. Without doing the actual mathaments, I’d hazard a guess that it is Rick Hahn’s single most successful free agent signing and it was one at the time that mostly everyone was pinning on Jerry Reinsdorf. If true. Thanks Jerry, you did us White Sox fans a solid there.
Okay, that’s enough meat gazing at Abreu’s wonderful performance and enough patting myself on my stupid back for telling yous it would be like this, let’s get to the brass tax of what is going down right now. Enough living in the past.
What are we going to do about Jose Abreu, Free Agent?
You are goddamn right I don’t want to hear that Mike!! However, this is the problem that we have in front of us. Much like the fall of 2019 discussing Abreu’s brand new contract at the time, we are going to go into this problem together, but we must leave our personal feelings at the door.
I LOVE JOSE ABREU. He’s a top 5 White Sox player of my lifetime. Honestly, he’s top 3, with Frank and Harold. But for this analysis, we need to shove that out the door and just think through this with the team’s best interest in mind and determine what are the ways to go about this and which we think might have the most value. I’m going to lay out a few different scenarios…hang tight.
I heard this idea bandied about much more last off-season and early this season, but not so much lately. Maybe it’s because Eloy Jimenez is having one of the BEST 2ND HALFS in White Sox history. I know that blog is a month old, but Eloy is still holding serve on that performance. Here’s his 2nd half numbers to the moment vs the rest of the league.
Yea, impressive. We all know Eloy’s issues. He has had all kinds of trouble staying healthy. He’s iffy in Left Field (elegantly non-terrible but unorthodox doing so). His defense is below average, but not so far that you can’t deal with it when he’s hitting like the monster he’s been in the 2nd half.
Eloy clearly has value in trade to another team despite possibly being anchored to DH, but I liken trading him to reverse implied odds in poker.
The team that gets him to play 120-140 games, even kinda injured like he’s been in the 2nd half of this season is going to cash a major lottery ticket. He’s already figured out how to take his walks, which was one of the holes in his game, if he figures out how to shake his above average ground ball rate, WHOA BOY!! Unless you can get a team to pay for him as if that’s all a foregone conclusion, you have a reverse implied odds situation.
Yes, he did sign one of those Hahn specials, a pre-arb extension, but even his half season of production is plenty to be worthwhile for each of the remaining seasons on the deal.
It’s even better if you can find a suitable personal trainer in here to get him to be more flexible, durable and less injury prone. One that makes Left Field at least a part-time occupation without serious side effects.
If you could find a suitor that will pay you for 2022 2nd half Eloy light version, you maybe could make a deal. Otherwise, there’s plenty of risk here.
Trade Andrew Vaughn??
You could trade Andrew Vaughn, he’s a good hitter, he’s young and under team control for awhile (see below) and he was drafted 3rd overall in 2019, so he’s got the pedigree. He’s an early fan favorite despite a mediocre debut in 2021 and a good, but not great hitting line in 2022 of .281 / .331 / .448.
All of this makes him a good trade asset, in theory. However, there are a few complicating factors. He has been ruled out to having value at any position other than 1b or DH. See the defensive chart below. He’s the worst defensive outfielder in baseball, by a good margin.
It’s a combination of very poor instincts and world class slowness that lines him up to be this brutal. It’s just not in the cards for him to be palatable in the outfield. His two closest comps are Kyle Schwarber, who really should be a DH and has nearly a .500 career slugging percentage and Juan Soto, who is basically the best hitter on the planet. So 1b / DH it is for Andrew.
Also, although Andrew does an absolutely terrific job of controlling the strike zone for a power hitter, with a 16.7% K-Rate in 2022, he’s only walking like a contact hitter 5.5%. I think Jim Margalus said it best.
It’s the opposite of what I was noticing about Eloy Jimenez in this 2nd half of the season. The good teams seem to be actively pitching around him, hoping he’ll chase out of the zone. Those same teams have no fear of Andrew Vaughn at this point (Triston McKenzie K ing him 3 times on 14 pitches on Wednesday night being a prime example of that).
There is still plenty of time for corrections and Vaughn seems to be a player capable of making those adjustments, they are however meaningful concerns in the lord’s year of 2022 when you are making this decision.
Lastly, the upcoming free agent market seems chalk full of veteran 1b / DH types that a contender could want to scoop up for ONLY MONEY, and not have to trade you anything for an Andrew Vaughn. See the images below from MLB Trade Rumors.
Plenty of options for the teams that don’t want to deal prospects for a young promising bat only player.
The White Sox have sort of painted themselves in a corner with Andrew Vaughn in that he is a good player and given where they drafted him, his pedigree and the existing roster, it’s tough to move him. I do however think you can get market value for Andrew Vaughn given all the factors on the table. It’s probably just a lower market value then most White Sox fans would believe. My off the cuff ideas for an Andrew Vaughn trade would be moving him to San Diego for Jake Cronenworth or to Tampa for Brandon Lowe, both fits for a roster that is dying on the vine for a good 2nd baseman.
Let Jose Abreu walk
This is the easiest decision mechanically. The White Sox let Jose Abreu become a free agent, allow Andrew Vaughn to play 1st base everyday and Eloy Jimenez DH everyday, and begin the search for suitable replacements in the outfield corners. There is the fact that Abreu (as previously mentioned in this blog) is trotting out a 4 WAR season and that’s in general pretty tough to replace for what he’d cost in the open market after the season. However, there is no guarantee that Jose is 4 WAR Jose again and the White Sox will pocket about 1 WAR in having ANYONE BUT ANDREW VAUGHN PLAY THE OUTFIELD.
Despite Jose rolling into 2022 with a career worst 15 Home Runs, he’s 4th in the AL in AVG, 11th in Runs Scored, 12th in wRC+, 1st in Hits, 12th in Walks, 9th in Doubles. He’s still quite potent at the plate and based on the eye test, he’s probably been playing through injury most of this season.
On Defense, the 35 year old First Baseman is top 5 at his position by Outs Above Average. So it is possible the “Let Jose Abreu” walk version of this doesn’t quite gain that full 1 WAR on defense if Andrew Vaughn can’t keep up with this pace.
All In All, this is the easiest and messiest way to do this all in one. The fanbase materially loves Jose and he should have his number retired here someday. They also love Andrew Vaughn and it would be putting an absolute ton of pressure on Vaughn for it end this way. Maybe he would thrive on it. Maybe he needs that pressure to become what we all hope he can become.
Let Jose Abreu Walk AND Trade Andrew Vaughn?
Full disclosure here. I know this idea won’t be popular. When I trotted it out to the 108 crew at the game the other night I got a lot of pondering looks and a few blank stares, but hear me out for a couple tree minutes.
The White Sox fans complaint of having entirely too many 1b / DH types is valid, so how do you maximize value from these guys? Well, you trade / repurpose the ones that are valuable on the open market and then use the lesser known more avant garde versions to give you 80% of that value while also recouping from the more known guys.
Gavin Sheets (career 111 OPS+ vs RHP) and Jake Burger (career 132 OPS+ vs LHP) could make a nice two headed monster at 1b if you could trade Andrew Vaughn for something this team really needs. Sheets we have watched go down to the minors, make the necessary adjustments and come back a much needed power source in the 2nd half of 2022. He’s tied for 2nd in SLG % in the 2nd half out of White Sox hitters with at least 100 PA.
Burger I wrote about earlier this season in a tongue in cheek blog about his home runs trots. However, that blog also denotes that he had the highest % of no-doubt home runs at that time. The power is real. The bat is real (at least vs LHP). Why not make use of it other than in Yoan Moncada’s next extended stay on the IL?
Sheets and Burger can also pick up a glove at other spots. Sheets has become a non-terrible Right Fielder while Burger is still pretty terrible at 3b, he still can spot start there increasing his utility to a roster that shouldn’t keep seeking to employ super-utility men just because.
This is the type of move that would definitely show me a different side of our fearless GM.
This offseason has the potential to be very interesting…
As much of a fucking buzzkill as the 2022 White Sox have been, this off-season leaves us content makers and fans with a lot of questions and a lot of different issues to dive head first into. My blogging juices are already flowing despite still having a couple weeks left to potentially enjoy the last of my favorite, Jose Abreu.
The last option requires the Kenny Williams, just stay healthy approach with it. Burger and Sheets are your existing depth (kinda)
Its not JUST batting average, either. Jose is priceless to the morale of this team! I’m not a TLR hater, but comparing the dugout during COVID (with the excited vibes from 2nd-3rd stringers cheering and jumping all over the place) to letting them go and now watching the team and manager so lethargic…. we need his presence!
Also, I like your favorite players list.
KEEP ABREU! Let him retire a WS!