All the smoke might turn into flames here shortly as the Cubs appear poised to make good on one of the more persistent reports of their offseason interest. Bruce Levine has been all over the North Siders’ affinity for former White Sox slugger José Abreu and the longtime Chicago baseball insider reported Wednesday for 670 The Score that the Cubs “will act quickly” once full free agency opens on Thursday.
Abreu’s 15 home runs were his fewest in any season, even the abbreviated 2020 campaign, but his 137 wRC+ was four points above his career average and his 3.9 fWAR was higher than in any season since 2017. What’s more, the right-handed batter is nearly split neutral, putting up a .307 average with a 135 wRC+ against righties as compared to .294 and 148 against lefties.
A vast majority of his plate appearances last year came as a first baseman, same for the rest of his career, but he will probably be asked to DH with greater frequency if he indeed signs with the Cubs. Having both Abreu and Matt Mervis would add a lot more pop and balance to a Cubs lineup that desperately needs both. Don’t let the lower homer total fool you, Abreu’s bat still plays.
He hit the ball as hard as ever last year and just needs to get his launch angle back up to his career norms while maintaining his relatively low strikeout rate. Mervis was able to improve on his swing-and-miss throughout the minor league season and in the Arizona Fall League, making him one of the rare modern power hitters who still makes a ton of contact.
Getting Abreu on a two-year deal, even at an inflated AAV, is something the Cubs appear ready and willing to do as soon as possible. From the sounds of it, the former South Side hit man may feel the same way about getting to play everyday in a ballpark where he’s put up a 1.009 OPS over 21 games. He’s not the Cubs’ only veteran target with AL Central experience, though.
Most of the pitching talk thus far has centered around Koudai Senga, for whose services the Cubs are considered among the frontrunners. They’ve also been linked to several other pitchers, the latest of whom is Corey Kluber. Levine said he was “on the Cubs’ radar” after a resurgent season in Tampa that saw him make 31 starts with a 4.34 ERA.
The most impressive part of his performance was a paltry 3.0% walk rate that ranked best in MLB among 45 qualified pitchers. Even if you lower the innings threshold to 50, Kluber is still third-lowest. He didn’t pitch quite as well down the stretch and he’ll turn 37 in early April, but it’s hard to argue against picking him up on a one-year deal for $12-15 million.
While Abreu and Kluber aren’t enough to turn this thing around for Jed Hoyer, not unless they both turn back the clock five years, adding them would be a good way to start the winter. I mean, hey, if the Cubs can’t reunite with any of their own World Series heroes, they may as well pick up a guy who nearly took them down in 2016.