McAdam: Expect Sox to be players for Cuban Abreu

McAdam: Expect Sox to be players for Cuban Abreu
August 15, 2013, 12:30 pm
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Free agency isn't what it used to be in baseball.
     
With few exceptions, most players in the prime of their careers don't reach the marketplace, as teams go to great lengths to wrap up their stars long before free agency beckons.
     
The Red Sox' signing of Dustin Pedroia, who is approaching 30, is a perfect example of this thinking.
     
(Clients of Scott Boras are often the outliers, as Boras views free agency as the best means to drive up a player's asking price.)
     
This fall, the free agent class is rather average, beyond Robinson Cano and a starting pitcher or two.
     
Indeed, the most sought-after player this off-season is likely to be someone who has never played an inning of Major League Baseball. Hulking Cuban slugger Jose Daniel Abreu, who defected from his native country recently, will the object of many teams' desires.
     
Though Abreu is an international free agent, because of his age (26) and experience in Cuba, he won't be subjected to the international cap limitations that restricts how much teams pay players from, say, Latin America.
     
Thus, it's believed that the winning bid for Abreu will exceed those handed out to fellow countryman Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig.
     
Expect the Red Sox to be significant players for Abreu's services.
     
Like virtually every other team, the Red Sox are in search of power and Abreu has it to spare. Projected as a first baseman, Abreu would fit perfectly into the Red Sox organization that has no logical successor to Mike Napoli next season.
     
Napoli is signed for just 2013, and given his streakiness and concerns over a degenerative hip condition -- the same malady that resulted in the Red Sox' tearing up their original three-year deal and reducing it to a single-year pact -- it's hard to see him returning in 2014.
     
Boston's minor league system is well-stocked with shortstops (Xander Bogaerts, Deven Marrero) and third basemen (Garin Cecchini) and pitching prospects galore. But the system lacks the raw power that is Abreu's calling card.
     
Thanks to tougher drug-testing and PED penalties, power has replaced pitching as the toughest commodity to find in baseball. Now, along comes Abreu, offering raw power, and just entering the prime of his career.
     
(Another attraction for the Red Sox, who are always mindful of not giving up draft picks as compensation for traditional free agents: Abreu won't cost teams more than money.)
     
It was precisely this set of circumstances that led team president Larry Lucchino to remark recently of Cuban free agent pitcher Miguel Gonzalez: "The main drawback (in trading for an elite player) for us would be giving up the prospects. That's the hard thing. Reaching into your pocket for your wallet is much easier."
     
And make no mistake: The Red Sox -- and any other interested team will have to dig deep.
     
One executive from another major league team projected that Abreu will land a five- or six-year commitment well in excess of the $42 million given to Puig.
     
The Red Sox have had scouts see Abreu in some international competition. An executive with one American League team which has scouted Abreu remarked that the slugger has outperformed his tools, opening some questions about how he'd fare against tougher competition in the major leagues.
     
There are even questions about his size. Though he's listed at between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, some believe he's closer in stature to 6-foot-5, drawing comparisons to former White Sox great Frank Thomas.
     
"But there's no denying his power and talent," said the executive. "He's very intriguing."
     
Abreu's numbers are eye-popping. In 2011, he was an MVP in Cuba after hitting .453 with 33 homers in just 293 plate appearances.
     
It will take months before Abreu is ready to entertain bids. He must first establish residency in another country, then be vetted by both MLB and the U.S. government.
     
But it's expected that will happen before the end of the calendar year. And when it does, expect the Red Sox to be there, checkbooks at the ready.