Despite much fawning by Mets fans—and fans of other teams—Cuban free agent first baseman Jose Abreu will reportedly sign a long-term deal with the White Sox in the very near future. Should we feel like the Mets missed out on another big-name bopper? Have a look at this:
These are the numbers that Jose Abreu is most associated with. Historic numbers, when analyzed through the prism of Cuban baseball. Farcical, video game numbers, when analyzed through the prism of Major League Baseball. Here's another set of numbers:
Look familiar? That's Ike Davis's batting line since 2012.
Why is Ike Davis relevant? Because regardless of what numbers computer projections and comparative algorithms attempting to normalize the competitive imbalance between the Cuban Serie Nacional and the MLB spit out, Jose Abreu was not going to hit .321/.446/.660 in a Mets uniform, nor will he in a White Sox uniform. How he will perform is anyone's guess right now, and we won't know until this time next year at the earliest. The Cuban first baseman represents tantalizing power sandwiched between doubts and uncertainties, prodigious power that might go untapped because of an inability to sufficiently hit MLB pitching. In other words, Ike Davis.
Would you be comfortable with Ike Davis making roughly $11 million dollars a year for the next half-dozen seasons? Like Abreu, we really have no clue which Ike Davis will show up in 2014. Will it be the "original" Ike Davis, the rookie who took over first base duties from Mike Jacobs back in May 2010 and had a very successful year, hitting .264/.351/.440? Will it be the "super" Ike Davis, the sophomore who hit an eye-popping .302/.383/.543 in roughly one quarter of the season, before having his year cut short because of injury? Will it be the "new" Ike Davis, the hot-and-cold hitter who showed up in 2012 and hit .201/.271/.388 in the first half of the season and .255/.346/.542 in the second half? Will it be the "2013 v1.0" Ike Davis, the mess that was demoted to Triple-A after hitting .165/.255/250 during the season's first three months, or will it be "2013 v2.0" Ike Davis, the guy that hit .286/.449/.505 in limited at-bats in the second half of the season?
Besides the normal ups-and-downs associated with hitters at the plate or having difficulty against the best pitchers in the league, will Abreu be able to handle the inner third of the plate, as scouts have wondered aloud? Will he lay off sliders away? Will he be able to withstand the rigors of a 162-game, six-month season, something he has no experience doing? All of these things will limit his ability at the plate. If he has difficulty making contact with the ball, or getting on base, a lot of good his world-renown home run power will do.
I don't necessarily expect Jose Abreu's MLB career to crash and burn. Like I said earlier, how he does over the course of the 2014 season is open to plenty of debate, and we can't say anything definitive about it until the season comes to an end. He might be a great player, he might be an average player, he might be a below average player, he might be a horrible player. What he is not, and should not be expected to be, is a baseball savior, either for the Mets—when we wonder what could have been—or for the White Sox going forward. Many tend to forget that, within his legendary Cuban baseball statistics, there is a man prone to the peaks and valleys hitters go through, on top of all of the question marks that are attached to his baseball résumé being an outsider coming to the major leagues.
The Mets lost out on signing the Cuban first baseman, but they didn't lose out on signing a guaranteed once-in-a-lifetime force that would have all but assured them the National League pennant for years to come. I wouldn't have complained if the Mets were the ones to sign him, but I'm not going to lament the fact that they didn't, and isolate the moment as the reason the Mets aren't competitive. The team has similar players with similar profiles and similar uncertainties. If we project in our minds Jose Abreu to become a monster in Chicago, why not project those other guys to break out as well?