CHICAGO – Cuban slugger Jose Abreu couldn't pass up the chance to play alongside his countrymen on the Chicago White Sox.
Abreu officially finalized a six-year, $68-million deal with the White Sox on Tuesday, about a week-and-a-half after the sides reached an agreement on the largest contract in franchise history. He is the organization's 17th Cuban player and the third currently on the roster, joining shortstop Alexei Ramirez and outfielder Dayan Viciedo.
"I know there were other teams interested but the support that I would have from Cuban players like Alexei and Dayan and from the beginning, they were interested and showed their interest," Abreu said through a translator. "When it came down to where it will be, it was pretty simple to pick the White Sox."
Abreu's agent Barry Praver said as many as eight teams were seriously involved before the list was narrowed to five finalists. All five final offers were at least $60 million.
The 26-year-old Abreu will receive a signing bonus of $10 million, with $6 million payable upon approval by Major League Baseball and $4 million due Nov. 14, 2014. He will get salaries of $7 million in each of the next two seasons, $10 million in 2016, $10.5 million in 2017, $11.5 million in 2018 and $12 million in 2019.
Praver said Abreu also has the right to opt out of the contract when he becomes arbitration eligible, though he would still be under White Sox control through arbitration. Praver described the negotiations as lengthy and competitive, which lasted two weeks from when teams were asked to submit their initial offers.
"He's A-plus in terms as far as dealing with a person," Praver said. "Very humble, very professional."
Abreu, who defected last summer, batted .360 (9 for 25) with three home runs and nine RBIs at the World Baseball Classic last March. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Abreu is expected to play either first base or fill the designated hitter role.
"He's solid on balls in the dirt which is obviously important at first base," general manager Rick Hahn said. "We think he can he can be a solid everyday defensive contributor. Again, the plus-plus tools are the power and the hit tool. But we do view the defense and the throwing as solid/average."
Abreu can help bolster a White Sox offense that scored the fewest runs in the American League and hit only 148 home runs, tied for third fewest in the AL, en route to a 63-99 record one year after finishing second in the AL Central. The White Sox envision Abreu hitting in the middle of the lineup, though Hahn didn't give any statistical expectations for Abreu's first season, citing an adjustment period to a new country and league.
"I just want to see him have the ability to maintain physically where he needs to be and mentally where he needs to be and then let the talent take over," Hahn said.
During his 2013 season with Cienfuegos in the top-level league in Cuba, Abreu hit .316 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs in 83 games. White Sox manager Robin Ventura envisions Abreu experiencing similar success to that of fellow Cubans, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
"So much has been said about my power and the home runs I've hit, but more than hitting home runs, my mindset at the plate is whatever my team needs, that's my strategy," Abreu said.
The addition of Abreu potentially makes first baseman Paul Konerko the odd-man out with slugger Adam Dunn set to return and owed $15 million in the final year of his contract. Konerko, who is a free agent, is taking time to consider whether he wants to retire or continue playing. Despite coming off a season in which he hit .244 with 12 home runs and 54 RBIs, Ventura said the 37-year-old Konerko deserves some time to think about his future.
"I can't sit here and say how exactly it'd work," Ventura said. "But if they're on the roster you figure out a way to keep them sharp and playing."
Hahn said he spoke to Konerko to inform him the White Sox were interested in Abreu and again to notify him of the signing. Hahn would not rule out Konerko returning but would not comment on specifics.
"He's going through his process and I think he's currently on vacation with his family," Hahn said. "When he gets back we'll set up a time to get together."
Hahn didn't rule out more offseason moves but acknowledged it will be costly to add through free agency.
"It's probably more likely that trades are next, but at the same time we haven't even hit true domestic free agency yet so it's not anything we're ruling out until we do our similar due diligence on some of the players that are available there," Hahn said.