In what passes for a headline on a slow spring training news day amid the rebuild, GM Rick Hahn sat down with the beats for his second powwow in as many weeks.
Whoo-wee, as James Fegan put it using a somewhat cockeyed apple pie analogy, getting another prearranged hour with the GM when the interceding week has been less than newsworthy is a test of wills between the executive branch and the Fourth Estate.
Among the highlights of Hahn’s fireside chat was his take on the urgency attached to keeping Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu on the South Side long term:
We have the ability to extend any player until they hit free agency. Then once they hit free agency, we have to compete with the other 29 clubs, but our history and relationship don’t necessarily put us at a disadvantage at that point, either.
Both of those players are under control for another two years. There’s no urgency to figure out years three, four, five and beyond at this point. We’ll continue those conversations when appropriate.
Far be it for South Side Sox do Hahn’s research, or Garcia’s or Abreu’s bidding, but the early spring lull prior to games seems a good time to attempt to project the two stars’ next contracts.
[Sotto voce: Indeed, dear reader, it may be foolhardy to make such projections from a point two seasons away. After all, won’t inflation alone muddy any dollar value mustered now? Unless you believe that next offseason’s Manny Machado-Bryce Harper-James Donaldson feeding frenzy will permanently alter the financial axis upon which baseball spins, no. In fact, with a nod to all the collusion chatter these days, an argument could be made that zany spending in 2018-19 might well tighten the purses in 2019-20.]
Avi’s out-of-nowhere breakout in 2017 muddies projections but good. His WAR was essentially nonexistent before last season (4.5 WAR in 2017, 4.6 career), meaning Garcia desperately needs two more seasons of salary drive to offset his first five, scuffling campaigns. Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez and Jay Bruce are no identical twins to Garcia, but they all fit in a rough filter of age and WAR.
Best Case: Eric Hosmer. Not words you’d usually expect to see, in that order, but Hosmer’s San Diego jackpot puts Garcia to bed with a smile these days. Garcia will be 28 when he hits free agency, and with any consistency (say, 3 WAR seasons in 2018 and 2019) will top Hos in last-three-season WAR and defensive WAR and get within shouting distance of Hosmer’s very modest career WAR. And if Garcia can repeat his 2017 over the next two seasons, the right fielder’s chance of landing a Hos deal get a lot closer to 100%.
Realistic Case: J.D. Martinez. Again, assuming Garcia can muster 3 WAR seasons in 2018 and 2019, he’ll establish himself as the same sort of “late bloomer” Martinez has (although two years younger than J.D. in hitting free agency), and as less of a defensive liability to boot. A five-year deal for Avi would stretch only into his early 30s, representing less risk of dramatic decline. If Garcia stays the course, 5/110 is well within range.
Worst Case: Jay Bruce. Yeah, $39 million over three is a hell of a worst case. But then, Avi could sink back into that 2012-16 quicksand, in which case he’ll have to hope for 3/39 in Japan. Bruce has had a wild three years leading up to free agency, basically earning his new contract with a 2.9 WAR stampede for millions in 2017. If Garcia only can manage, say, four or five WAR between now and free agency, he settles into Bruce territory, with with less of a track record and a younger age.
OK, so the “comps” for Abreu’s future free agency aren’t quite a Best/Realistic/Worst split. You could make an argument that Desmond’s shocking contract with the Rockies—which he promptly rewarded with a career-worst season, after Colorado decided to plop him at first base, of all places—is the best of the bunch (more total dollars, coming off of a weaker salary-drive season). Santana and Encarnacion have essentially equal deals, Encarnacion enjoying a chance of getting another year and $15 million if the Cleveland Indians don’t buy him out in 2020.
Abreu’s intangibles, for whatever they may be worth in an increasingly analytics-driven market, should only push him into more dollars than any of the comps above, provided he staves off any decline and continues producing something near the 4 WAR/season he has averaged so far in the majors. But age (Abreu will be 32 entering free agency) and a market that seems locked into paying all-bat talents $20 million a year, will prevent Pito from making a nine-figure splash.