José Abreu signs 3-year free-agent deal

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The Astros plunged into their “top priority” of meeting their most pressing off-season need.

Houston signed free agent first baseman José Abreu Monday night to a three-year contract, keeping the three-time All Star and former American League MVP an Astro through 2025.

The exact financial terms of the deal were not immediately known, but several people with knowledge said the expected value is around $60 million.

The Astros will introduce Abreu at a 10 a.m. press conference on Tuesday alongside owner Jim Crane, who is acting as the club’s de facto general manager after parting ways with James Click earlier this month.

Abreu spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Chicago White Sox, where he won American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2014 and American League MVP during the truncated 2020 season. He is Houston’s everyday first baseman and hits in the middle of a suddenly longer lineup. A person in the organization Monday called Abreu “our top priority” this winter.

Abreu provides the Astros with a menacing right-handed midfield bat, which pairs well with left-handed threats Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. Abreu hit 243 home runs in 1,270 games with the White Sox and boasts a career-high .506 slugging percentage. He hit 30 home runs in five of his eight 162-game seasons.

Abreu’s career 134 OPS+ is 34 points above the league average. He hit only three home runs in his final 247 at bats last season, but managed to maintain a .368 on-base percentage, a common theme during the White Sox’s injury-ridden season that led to the resignation of manager Tony La Russa.

Abreu sacrificed some of his strength last season, perhaps due to a lack of protection in the Chicago lineup, but still fits Houston’s touch-focused offensive approach perfectly. Although Abreu only hit 15 home runs last year, he ended the season batting .304 with a .378 on-base percentage. Both were his highest marks since 2014. Abreu also cut his pass rate to 16.2 percent, the lowest in his nine-year career.

Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle discusses the Astros’ free agent priorities and the situation with Justin Verlander. Video: Houston Chronicle

Abreu’s lifetime strikeout percentage is 19.8 percent — nearly two points below the major league average. He can be prone to chasing outside the strike zone, but has a sniffing percentage that’s in line with the league average.

Last season, Abreu recorded the lowest swing rate of his career and had the highest contact rate. Only 10 qualified hitters averaged a harder exit speed than Abreu’s 92.2 mph. Of those 10, only two had higher batting averages: American League MVP Aaron Judge and Alvarez.

Abreu should now fit behind Alvarez in a batting order that looks far more frightening than at any point last season. The decay of Yuli Gurriel, a midfield carousel, and Jeremy Peña’s struggles in the second half left Houston’s lineup without any length. Pitching masked the shortcoming during the regular season. Peña penned a post-season breakaway to cuff it en route to a World Series title. Assuming Peña can maintain his playoff form, Abreu gives the Astros one of the best lineups in the American League.

His arrival almost certainly marks the end of Gurriel’s seven-year tenure as an everyday player. Gurriel is a free agent and said he hopes to reunite with the only organization he has ever known after winning the World Series.

Throughout his Houston career, Gurriel rose to become one of the clubhouse leaders and a cornerstone of the team’s six straight appearances in the American League Championship Series. Infielders became increasingly dependent on him for his great scooping ability at first base, and his bat-to-ball skills were great. Gurriel captured a gold glove and batting title in 2021. The decline in both areas last season was too drastic to ignore.

According to FanGraphs, Abreu was worth one defensive run at first base last season. Baseball Savant measured him to zero outs above average. Gurriel posted negative numbers in both defensive stats. Houston could bring Gurriel back next season in a part-time or support role, but it’s clear the club was looking for an offensive upgrade in order to play every day.

Enter Abreu.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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