Chicago White Sox Sign Jose Dariel Abreu for Six Years and $68 Million
The Chicago White Sox today signed Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu to a six-year contract for a total of $68 million, the largest contract ever given to an international player. Abreu will be 27 next year and his power is reportedly tremendous. However, there is some question about his bat speed and his ability to hit major league fastballs on the inner third of the plate. Also, Abreu weighs 250 lbs and lacks the athleticism of recent Cuban major league stars Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the bidding on Abreu was fast and furious, with four other teams bidding between $63 million and $66 million for his services.
What all of this tells me is that major league teams make many of their decisions based on the way the winds are currently blowing. I have no doubt that Abreu is a good prospect, but I very much doubt he is as good a prospect as Yoenis Cespedes was two years ago. Their Cuban Serie Nacional numbers were comparable, but Cespedes was a year younger when signed and much more athletic. Yet, Abreu got two more seasons and nearly twice the money Cespedes got two years ago.
Clearly, Abreu’s huge deal says as much about how well Cespedes and Puig have played in the majors as it does about Abreu’s talent.
Abreau’s deal is clearly fantastic for the Asian pitchers who might come to the U.S. in 2014. Japan’s Masahiro Tanaka is widely regarded as a better prospect than Abreu, and after the contract Abreu just got, along with the major league performances this season of Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma and Hiroki Kuroda, a $60 million posting fee followed by a six-year $68 million contract seems highly likely, if Tanaka is indeed posted this off-season.
Another player likely to benefit is South Korea’s Suk-Min Yoon. Yoon is a true free agent who is still only 27 years old and won the Korean Baseball Organization’s (“KBO”) pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA and strikeouts leader) in 2011. Yoon is the KBO’s best major league starting pitcher prospect since Hyun-Jin Ryu went stateside.
Truth be told, Yoon doesn’t have Ryu’s strikeout stuff, and Yoon had a mediocre season in the KBO in 2013, posting an even 4.00 ERA with 76 Ks and 28 walks allowed in 87.2 innings pitched. Yoon roughly split the season between starting and relieving, so he recorded seven saves and two holds to go with a meager 3-6 record. Yoon’s ERA as a starter was 4.15, compared to 3.60 in relief [thanks to myKBO.net for the splits].
Yoon is currently in the U.S. trying out for major league teams. The Twins and the Cubs have been reported to have interest.
Two things will help Yoon’s chances of securing a major league contract in spite of his mediocre 2013 season. First, Ryu’s success in 2013 has other teams hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with another KBO pitcher.
Second, salaries in the KBO are low. According to my information, the best paid player in the KBO in 2013 was probably veteran slugger Seung-yeop Lee, who made around $700,000. However, Lee played ten seasons in the KBO and eight seasons in Japan’s NPB prior to the 2013 season. There are probably a few other players in the KBO making at least $500,000 per year, but only the very best foreign pitchers and Korean veteran sluggers who have already reached their KBO free agency.
The upshot is that I doubt Yoon made more than $500,000 pitching in the KBO this past season, if that. As such, a major league contract calling for as little $1 million per season for one to three years would be substantially more than Yoon would make in South Korea. He could conceivably get similar money pitching in Japan’s NPB, although I very much doubt that an NPB team would give him more than $1 million for one season after his 2013 performance.
On the other hand, Yoon is being represented by agent Scott Boras in his current efforts to secure a major league contract. Boras finds a way to get big deals for players even when their leverage seems minimal.
In my mind, a contract like the one the Brewers gave Norichika Aoki before the 2012 season (two years and $3.25 million, which becomes a three-year $4.5 million deal when the Brewers exercise their 2014 option, with Aoki becoming a free agent after the 2014 season) would be the kind of low-risk, potentially high-reward deal that would be appropriate for Yoon.