On December 8, we didn’t know where Giancarlo Stanton would wind up and the word on the street was that trade talks between the White Sox and Boston — presumably the No. 1 potential suitor for Jose Abreu — were insubstantial. On December 9, Stanton was traded to the New York Yankees for an OK second baseman, a live-armed prospect who fell outside the Yankees Top 10 (although he’s not without his fans) and some other guy. Totally coincidentally, on December 10, the Red Sox and the Cardinals — who missed out on Stanton pursuant to his no-trade clause—are suddenly very interested in Abreu.
Funny how that happens.
The Red Sox finished 26th in the majors in slugging percentage last year and were a bottom-third offense overall. And, instead of having some black hole that could easily be papered over, every single regular on their team mustered an OPS+ of 89 or higher, with the lowest two figures coming from a very good defensive center fielder and a very good defensive catcher. So, it makes it a little trickier to make a significant upgrade. There is likely some internal improvement here — Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts have been better than last year, and Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi could improve after their first looks at the majors. But, as it stands, they have Hanley Ramirez to man both first base and DH, and that’s kind of it.
Abreu would represent a colossal upgrade over last year’s first baseman, Mitch Moreland and his .246/.326/.443 line, and Boston’s need would also explain their reported interest in Kyle Schwarber, who really should be on an AL team sooner or later, rather than play on the same team as Anthony Rizzo.
As anticipated since his arrival, Dave Dombrowski has liberally dealt minor leaguers to upgrade the major league roster, adding Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale, and Drew Pomeranz for something like a half dozen Top 100 prospects. Between that and the graduation of Devers and Benintendi, and the utter implosions of Blake Swihart and Henry Owens, and the system is quite a bit thinner than it once was.
Michael Chavis and Jason Groome are the two I anticipate will be near the top of the list, and following the logic to its ruthless extreme, they would likely be more helpful with the White Sox’ competitive window than Abreu would, given that he only has two years left on his deal. Maybe the organization thinks those two are enough for Abreu — it’s hard to say, prospect evaluation is awfully tough, and organizations can vary quite significantly on their estimation of each, and maybe the White Sox think they can get more than that elsewhere down the road.
Then there’s the difficulty of figuring out how the league as a whole values corner bats. Edwin Encarnacion should DH more than he plays first base these days, but his bat is no joke, and he hardly signed for what was expected heading into last offseason. J.D. Martinez was a rental, but he too can mash and was traded a few months ago for a song.
Further cutting against a potential trade, the White Sox love having Abreu for reasons beyond his skills on the field, as he has unquestionably seized the role of veteran leader for a growing horde of rookies. Indeed, his mentorship has already borne quite tangible, publicly visible fruit, as he was able to get Reynaldo Lopez to admit he was pitching through an injury when the coaching staff could not. So they would need to truly get blown away to make this trade worth their while.
Perhaps Stanton being ripped from St. Louis’ jaws and plopped onto the Yankees has suddenly changed the calculus severely for both Boston and the Cardinals. Stanton’s sudden landing in the Bronx with the whole rest of the offseason ahead to bolster their weaknesses may might mean Boston is a whole lot less confident in their ability to win the division. Moreover, if more than one team is now interested in Abreu, you have a potential bidding war, even better for a seller.
The rest of the market for big bats is either profoundly less appetizing than Abreu or vastly more expensive in years and money — and in the case of Eric Hosmer, arguably both. Maybe Abreu is the porridge that’s just right for these teams, and maybe the White Sox will get bowled over.
I’d still bet against him moving, at least this winter, but Dombrowski and the Cardinals are both motivated, and Stanton’s dramatic trade may be a seismic enough event to alter the course of the offseason for half the league.
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