Bagwell reflects on Abreu's Astros tenure

June 15th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

HOUSTON -- When the Astros were courting free-agent first baseman following the 2022 season, Jeff Bagwell joined manager Joe Espada, who was bench coach at the time, and former assistant general manager Bill Firkus in flying to Abreu’s home in Miami to close the deal. The club was working without a general manager, having moved on from James Click shortly after the World Series and still months away from hiring Dana Brown.

The Astros were coming off a championship and had signed the best free-agent first baseman on the market, fulfilling their biggest offseason need. The signing was generally praised around the league, considering Abreu’s recent track record of success and how well he would fit into a veteran clubhouse in Houston. It was full-speed ahead.

Fast-forward 19 months and the Astros have released Abreu following 1 1/2 lackluster seasons in Houston, which means they still owe him around $30 million. In an exclusive interview with, Bagwell -- the Hall of Fame slugger who’s now the team’s senior advisor to ownership and baseball operations -- spoke about Abreu’s struggles at the plate and of the disappointment that the signing didn’t work out.

“First let me say this, José Abreu has been nothing more than a professional with class and a great player in his career,” Bagwell said. “To get sent down like he did and take that [Minor League] assignment was a very, very difficult thing for a player of his caliber. You’ve got to give him a ton of credit for that. It just didn’t work out. When we signed him, if you look at his 2022 numbers -- analytically, data-driven, all that -- he was the guy to get. It just didn’t work out.”

Abreu, 37, had a .362 OPS with two homers in 35 games with the Astros this season, slashing .167/.186/.333 with two home runs in 13 games after rejoining the Astros on May 27 following a month in the Minor Leagues. Bagwell spent some time with him in West Palm Beach, Fla., during that period to try to get his swing right.

“He went down there and made some adjustments,” Bagwell said. “[Assistant hitting coordinator] Rene Rojas spent a lot of time with him. I went down there to see him. I was happy with what I saw. When he came back, it didn’t pan out enough for the organization to see that we could keep trying to see if he could get better, because of the dire need for us to win now.”

One day in April, at the urging of hitting coach Alex Cintrón, Bagwell and Abreu spent more than an hour together at Minute Maid Park -- first talking about hitting in the dugout, before Bagwell watched Abreu take early batting practice on the field. The pair talked behind the cage several times, with Bagwell giving advice along the way.

“I had talked to him a bunch since he got here,” Bagwell said. “It is a hard decision, because at the end of the day, this is about our ballclub and that’s the only thing that matters, is our ballclub. Four, five, six in the lineup or five, six, whatever, that’s where José needed to hit, and it just didn’t work out. That’s what’s hard is because we still have to find RBIs. That’s the bottom line of trying to win.”

Abreu finished last season strong after spending a 12-game stretch on the injured list in mid-August with a back injury. He slashed .250/.325/.558 with eight homers and 31 RBIs from Aug. 28 to the end of the regular season, finishing with 90 RBIs, and he came up clutch in the postseason. Abreu hit four homers with 13 RBIs and a .945 OPS in 11 playoff games.

That gave the Astros high hopes for a rebound full season in 2024, but he was sidelined for some time in Spring Training with a knee injury and never appeared to regain his timing.

“He helped carry us at the end of last year and into the playoffs and just got behind in Spring Training and never really found it after it,” Bagwell said. “It wasn’t without effort. And when you’re a team that’s struggling like we are to score runs right now, that’s just something out of my control and it’s out of anybody’s control. It’s not like anybody disliked José. He’s a great human being, had a great career. It just didn’t work out and it’s unfortunate for both sides.”