While much of the early offseason talk has focused on the Baltimore Orioles’ need to add starting pitching (and rightfully so), the Orioles are also expected to attempt to bolster an offense that finished 20th out of 30 teams in OPS (on base plus slugging) this offseason. In addition, the Orioles have an opening at DH/first base after dealing fan-favorite Trey Mancini to the Houston Astros this past summer. Free-agent slugger, Jose Abreu, could be a perfect fit for the Orioles’ lineup.
Abreu, 35, has spent all nine seasons of his big-league career with the Chicago White Sox, averaging an impressive .292 batting average, 27 home runs, and 96 RBI per season. The MVP of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Abreu has also averaged an OPS of .860 during his nine years in Chicago, which would have easily paced the Orioles offensively last season. While Abreu’s power numbers declined a bit last year–he posted a career low 15 home runs–Abreu was still incredibly effective, hitting .304, posting an .824 OPS, and turning in a 4.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) season, which led all Orioles except Adley Rutschman.
Jose Abreu would provide an instant boost to the Baltimore Orioles offense.
Of course, a player of Jose Abreu’s caliber is likely to draw interest from several clubs, including the World Champion Astros, who are unlikely to resign Mancini and will have a similar opening at first base/DH. In addition, now that the designated hitter position is universal, several National League teams, such as the San Diego Padres (incumbents Brandon Drury and Josh Bell are free agents) and the Chicago Cubs, are expected to show interest in Abreu. Abreu is not expected back with the White Sox, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.
And what would it cost? Some outlets predict Abreu could earn up to $20 million per season, while others have him at “only” $17.5 million per season. One outlet predicts an average annual value of $23 million. By way of reference, the highest paid Oriole in 2022 was veteran Jordan Lyles at $6 million. The Orioles just declined Lyles’ $11M option for 2023.
The Orioles have seldom paid a hitter the amount it may take to sign Jose Abreu.
Examples of the Orioles giving out double-figure deals to free agent position players from other clubs have been few and far between, with Miguel Tejada’s 6 year, $72 million contract in December 2003 representing the last time the Orioles made such a move (the Orioles splurged a bit in 2011, signing Vladimir Guerrero to a one year, $8 million deal and Derrick Lee to a one year, $7.25 million deal, but have not signed anyone for over $10 million annually since Tejada).
In other words, adding a player of Abreu’s caliber will be costly and somewhat unprecedented for the Orioles. But these are unprecedented times; the Orioles are loaded with young and inexpensive talent, MLB’s number one farm system, and aspirations to supplement the MLB club and secure a playoff spot that has eluded them for the last six years. Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has said as much, proclaiming that it is “lift off from here” for this team.
Of course, there is a case to be made against signing Abreu. Abreu will be 36 when the season starts, and despite posting a strong OPS last season, saw a dramatic decrease in his home run power in 2022. In addition, while the right-handed hitting Abreu is capable of driving the ball the other way, the Orioles’ decision to move the left field wall back several feet prior to 2022 has made Camden Yards less hitter-friendly for right-handed batters. And, to the extent the Orioles’ 2023 budget has its limits–and spoiler alert, it does–the Orioles may be better served committing this money to multiple players in small increments while spending the majority of their free agent capital on pitching.
Nevertheless, if the Orioles have a real opportunity to add Abreu this offseason, they should do whatever they can, within reason, to bring him to Baltimore. While a $20 million average annual value seems pricey–and it is–Abreu may represent the best impact bat the Orioles can realistically sign this offseason, as younger, and flashier free agents such Trea Turner and Carlos Correa are likely to command contracts over $30 million per season.
If the Baltimore Orioles can add Jose Abreu, he would likely share first base and designated hitter duties with incumbent Ryan Mountcastle and bat in the upper half of the Orioles lineup. As he did in Chicago, Abreu would also likely take on a mentoring role to the team’s younger players. While the Orioles figure to face some competition for his services, adding Abreu’s right-handed bat to an improving Orioles team, along with the continued development of the homegrown players, would be a key ingredient in moving the Orioles closer to the playoffs in 2023.