Born January 29, 1987 in the town of Cruces, Cuba, Jose Dariel Abreu Correa is considered among the preeminent power-hitting threats in contemporary Cuban baseball. The 26-year-old former Cienfuegos Elefantes first baseman won the Cuban MVP Award for the 2010-2011 Serie Nacional de Beisbol, and he is no stranger to the record books.
52nd Serie Nacional de Beisbol (2012-2013)
51st Serie Nacional de Beisbol (2011-2012)
50th Serie Nacional de Beisbol (2010-2011)
49th Serie Nacional de Beisbol (2009-2010)
48th Serie Nacional de Beisbol (2008-2009)
As Keith Hernandez would say, Jose Abreu is a specimen. His performance in the 2010-2011 Serie Nacional is considered to be one of the greatest in the fifty year history of the national tournament—and in the history of baseball on the island. While he only has one MVP Award to his credit, he could have won it in any of the past four years. From the 49th Serie Nacional to 52nd, Abreu played in 274 games and had 916 at-bats. During that time, he hit a combined .407/.557/.845. He placed 1st in all of Cuba in batting average and home runs for two of those four years and placed 2nd the other two. He placed 1st in on-base percentage and slugging percentage for all four years.
In addition, the slugger has a great deal of international experience, having played in competitions around the world for the Cuban National Team. Most notably, he played for Team Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, where he hit .360/.385/.760 with three home runs in six games.
According to ESPN Deportes, the right-hander is currently in Haiti. He will have to establish and prove permanent residency—either there or elsewhere—before being given an unblocking license from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control. While this process normally goes smoothly, it could take months, as it did for Dariel Alvarez.
Because Abreu is more widely recognized, the process should go faster, but that is simply a hunch on my part. With more recognition comes more historical documentation, making it easier for the U.S. government and MLB to verify his age and identity. Once obtained, because the right-hander is over 23 years of age and has over three years of professional baseball experience, MLB teams will be able to legally bid for his services.
Does he make sense for the Mets?
In short: Yes and no.
Abreu would certainly be a fit for the Mets, as he would be for any team, really. Therein lies one of the biggest problems. In order to procure his services, the Mets would need to offer the slugging Cuban the most lucrative contract.
While first base is an area that could use improvement, it is not an area that needs to be addressed with the highest priority. Ike Davis has been playing much better since the All-Star break, and in his current incarnation he could prove to be an adequate, if unconventional, option at first base. Josh Satin, Lucas Duda, and even Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores all represent in-house options that the organization can use at the position.
While Sandy Alderson has stated that the Mets will have money to spend this offseason, would it make sense for the team to allocate those funds to an area that doesn't need to be immediately addressed? That is, the upgrade at first base would likely preclude a major upgrade in the outfield or shortstop via the free agent market. Would Abreu's acquisition be worth sacrificing more urgent upgrades elsewhere?
By no means will the slugging first baseman be cheap. While there are way too many variables to plan a defection to coincide with specific outside variables, Abreu couldn't have picked a better time. The lack of first basemen on the free agent market—Mike Napoli is widely seen as the best free agent at first—will be the first thing to drive his price up. Scarcity drives value. In addition, with the recent successes of Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, and the relative large signing bonuses given to other Cuban expatriates over the past few years, Jose Abreu seems poised to cash in based on his reputation and that of other Cuban players.
This leads to the question of whether or not Abreu's bat will play to the MLB level to begin with, a question that plagues all non-rookie foreign-born players. Because of his age and past experience, Abreu will immediately break camp with whatever MLB team signs him without any minor league seasoning. According to Baseball America's Ben Badler, many scouts are unsure whether or not his hitting can translate in America, and because he has been well scouted at various international competitions, this simply isn't a case of nationalistic chest-beating or unfamiliarity with the player, either.
Abreu has a somewhat unorthodox stance that has a few moving parts and average bat speed, at best, leading to questions about whether or not he will be able to catch up to balls thrown inside. That's likely partially mitigated by Abreu's proclivity for being hit by pitches, as he takes bases via HBP with Utley-like glee. Over the past four years, he has been hit by a pitch an astounding 83 times, with 10 in the 52nd SNdB, 22 in the 51st 21 in the 50th, and 30 in the 49th.
Back in 2012, Oakland Athletics assistant GM David Forst compared Abreu to Ryan Howard in terms of athletic ability, strengths, and weaknesses. For all of the criticism that Howard gets because his contract, the man hit .274/.369/.559 with a 139 OPS+ during his prime years, which began at the same age Jose Abreu is now. Those, or even slightly inferior ones, are very juicy numbers. Are they juicy enough to make Sandy Alderson bite? Would you?