So is this what happens when you get rid of your successful, respected GM, and try to Jerry Jones your way through the offseason?
Signing a 35-year-old first baseman/DH to a three-year deal, even off a year when some signs of age crept into his performance and his batted-ball stats, is some 1980s George Steinbrenner malarkey. It’s also rather contrary to the way James Click, and other execs from the Tampa Bay Rays front-office tree, try to build their rosters. First base and DH are spots you can easily fill in the lower end of the free-agent market, or use to accommodate players you already have who might be blocked elsewhere. If you’re not signing an elite player — put a pin in that for a moment — you go for a less expensive one and spend that money elsewhere.
It is quite likely, however, that the Astros, whether Jim Crane or his factotums or Reggie Jackson or whoever is making these decisions, believe they got an elite player in José Abreu. The Cuban infielder won the AL MVP in 2020 (despite being nowhere near the league’s best player) and appeared to bounce back in 2022 after a down year in between, boosting his batting average 43 points to .304, cutting his strikeout rate to a career-low 16.2 percent and generating about 4 WAR, his best full-season showing in either of the major WAR metrics since 2017. You can wave your hands a little bit and argue that the Astros got a top-tier first baseman — he was fifth in the majors among first basemen in fWAR and rWAR last year.
I’m not arguing that Abreu was less than elite last year, because that’s beside the point. The Astros aren’t buying Abreu’s 2022 performance. They’re buying his 2023-2025 performances, and those are extremely likely to be worse, starting in year one and declining sharply from there. For one thing, he’ll play at 36 this year, and his production outside of 2022 hasn’t been elite for some time; from 2018-21, he had just a .340 OBP, .336 if you take out the intentional walks. He did show consistently strong power output, averaging 33.7 homers per 162 games in that stretch, making him above-average but putting him in the 2-3 WAR range.