The Miami Marlins were previously in the running for the services of Cuban free agent Jose Abreu, but last night, news came out that the Chicago White Sox were able to sign Abreu to a reported six-year deal worth $68 million. The White Sox will use Abreu at first base as their long-term replacement for Paul Konerko, who is under contract but may retire in 2014.
The Marlins were in the running, but were not among the final three teams in competition for the 26-year-old first baseman. This represents yet another season in which the Fish have missed out on a top Cuban free agent who could have brought potential stardom to a franchise starved for talent. Abreu was no guarantee to become a top-flight player, but the Marlins should have taken the risk on him given the price involved.
Abreu's deal was worth more than $11 million per season over six years, and that was the largest deal paid out to a Cuban free agent. Previous deals to players like Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig, and Yoenis Cespedes were smaller but generated a similar amount of buzz. Abreu is going to come into 2014 with major expectations to bring in a ton of power for the White Sox because of his lucrative contract.
But when compared to players who are involved in normal free agency, Abreu's costs are not that bad. Depending on who you ask, the price of a win in 2014 may be around $5 million to $7 million. For that cost, you would at most be expecting Abreu to put up around two wins a season. That sort of performance would have been similar to players like Prince Fielder and Nick Swisher this season. But given that his power numbers in Serie Nacional A in Cuba were through the roof, there was at least a passable chance that Abreu would become a star. A move for Abreu represented a high-risk, high-reward variance that could end absurdly well or quite poorly for the signing team.
The Marlins, with their money-hoarding ways, would have been a perfect candidate for a high-variance play. The Fish would have a difficult time if Abreu busted, but the franchise would have benefited more if he became a surplus value giant and became a star. With the team's limited funds, any savings on wins generated by a player like Abreu would have been worth more than the extra value to a spendy team like the Boston Red Sox, who were among the finalists for his services.
The Marlins should have taken a cue from the Houston Astros, who were the last of the three finalists. Houston was probably thinking the same way as the Oakland Athletics were when they pursued Cespedes; with limited financial means, they need to take a risk to move into contention status. The A's took a risk and got what they paid for in Cespedes, and Houston was probably thinking about doing the same. This is especially true with an Astros franchise that would have had a tough time attracting pricey, more guaranteed free agents this season due to their lack of surrounding infrastructure.
The Marlins have the same problem as the Astros. Their pipeline of prospect talent runs deep, but the Major League team has very little in terms of skill. Acquiring a free agent, especially with the franchise's 2012 fire sale, would be a difficult task. Finding a potential star talent interested in playing for the Fish would have been a tough task traditionally. The team blew its latest shot at a marketable option in Abreu, and it may come to regret the decision, as it likely does with the Cespedes miss.