The White Sox and Jose Abreu have discussed a long-term deal. Abreu, 32, is facing a tough market for aging first basemen - and has a qualifying offer attached to him. Teams already are loath to go in big at that age and position. The QO could make it even tougher.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 8, 2019
What is interesting, however, is what effect - if any - the qualifying offer the team extended their longtime first baseman earlier this week will have on what kind of contract Abreu ends up signing.
It's long seemed a foregone conclusion that the soon-to-be 33-year-old Abreu will be back on the South Side in 2020. With how productive he's been in his six major league seasons and how much he means to the team off-the-field as a model and mentor to young players, seeing him return on a multi-year contract has long seemed the most likely outcome.
But the White Sox extended a qualifying offer to Abreu at the start of free agency earlier this week, giving him 10 days to accept or reject a one-year contract worth $17.8 million. If he accepts, that's his contract, and he'll be slated to hit free agency again following the 2020 season. If he rejects, he can still work out an extension to return to the White Sox. But the team covered its bases. If Abreu, for some unforeseen reason, ends up signing anywhere besides the South Side, the White Sox will receive a draft pick for losing him.
As Passan pointed out, though, the market for aging first basemen might not exactly be a strong one this winter, and if Abreu rejects the qualifying offer, there might not be any team out there that presents him with a better deal. Teams have gone to great lengths to avoid losing their own draft picks for signing a player who rejected a qualifying offer, as exhibited last offseason. Star players like Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel didn't end up signing until halfway through the 2019 season. The danger of that fate could cause complications in Abreu's decision, perhaps spurring him to accept the offer.
The idea of a chess match here seems very bizarre, though, as Abreu spent the 2019 campaign telling reporters at every turn how badly he wanted to remain with the White Sox. He's come off as hopeful and giddy about the team's future as anyone, and he went as far as to declare on multiple occasions that if the White Sox didn't re-sign him, he'd sign himself to a new contract to stay on the South Side.
That sentiment has appeared mutual, with Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and Abreu's teammates lauding him as a model player. Abreu revealed that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told him he'd never wear another uniform.
So it doesn't exactly add up that the White Sox would box Abreu into accepting a one-year deal to avoid an uncertain market. A multi-year contract for a guy the team seems to hold in the same esteem as players like Paul Konerko and Mark Buehrle remains the most likely outcome.
"There's a strong desire on both sides to figure out a way to keep Jose in a White Sox uniform beyond this year," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. "We've been in these situations before. It seems fairly similar to the Paul Konerko situation after '05 and again after '09, when we re-signed him again. Paulie went deep into free agency and talked to other clubs, and we still found a way to bring him back.
"I don't know quite the path it's going to follow with Jose just yet, but more often than not when there's that mutual desire to figure out a way to get something done, you wind up getting something done."
Certainly, the qualifying offer has thrown an interesting wrinkle into this whole discussion. Abreu has a few more days to decide whether he will accept or reject.