HOUSTON -- Less than a month after winning their second World Series championship in six seasons, the Astros on Monday made a move to bolster their chances of repeating by signing free-agent first baseman José Abreu to a three-year deal, the team announced Monday night.
Abreu, who turns 36 on Jan. 29, played his first nine Major League seasons with the White Sox and consistently has been one of the top middle-of-the-order run producers in the game. Last year, Abreu hit .304 with an .824 OPS, drawing a personal-best 62 walks and posting a .378 on-base percentage that ranks second in his illustrious career.
The Astros targeted Abreu early in free agency, and he was considered their top target. He remains an elite contact hitter and will have plenty of RBI opportunities hitting sixth in Houston’s lineup, behind Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker.
Abreu experienced a drop in power last year, with 15 home runs and 75 RBIs in 157 games, but he should benefit from the Crawford Boxes in left field at Minute Maid Park. In his final 55 games and 234 plate appearances last season, Abreu had one home run and 20 RBIs.
“I didn't hit homers,” Abreu said through White Sox interpreter Billy Russo during his last regular-season interview. “That's one of my goals to work on during the offseason, trying to increase power.”
The 2020 American League Most Valuable Player, 2014 AL Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger winner was once again a Silver Slugger finalist in ’22. Abreu will finish his White Sox career as the team’s third-leading all-time home run hitter with 243 while ranking fifth in RBIs with 863 and sixth in doubles with 303.
Abreu's value goes well beyond on-field contributions. Abreu is a leader in the clubhouse and the dugout, not to mention a leader by example with his intense work ethic. He has worked hard to become a solid defensive first baseman since coming to the White Sox from Cuba via a six-year, $68 million deal prior to the 2014 season -- a contract that preceded his three-year, $50 million extension prior to ’20.
What does this mean for Gurriel?
The Abreu deal likely ends the tenure of veteran first baseman Yuli Gurriel in Houston. Gurriel, a free agent, was a cornerstone player on Houston’s run of six consecutive ALCS appearances and is a free agent, along with ace right-hander Justin Verlander. If neither returns next year, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Lance McCullers Jr. would be the final holdovers from the 2017 World Series championship club.
A popular player in the clubhouse, Gurriel, 38, batted .242 with eight homers and 53 RBIs in the regular season but had a solid postseason, hitting .347 with two homers in 12 games. He suffered a right MCL sprain in Game 5 of the World Series and didn’t play in the Game 6 clincher against the Phillies on Nov. 5.
What’s next for the Astros?
The Astros would still like to add another bat in left field but haven’t closed the door on re-signing veteran Michael Brantley. Earlier this month, Astros owner Jim Crane said the club is taking a wait-and-see approach with Brantley, who is recovering from the arthroscopic labral surgery on his right shoulder that he underwent in August. Brantley hit .288 with 14 doubles, five homers, 26 RBIs and a .785 OPS in 64 games as the Astros' primary left fielder in 2022 but didn’t play after June 26.
If the Astros decide not to re-sign Brantley, they have an interest in free agent outfielder Michael Conforto, a left-handed hitter who spent the first seven years of his career with the Mets. He didn’t play last season while recovering from shoulder surgery after slashing .232/.344/.384 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs in 2021.