According to WEEI’s Alex Speier (via a tweet by Venezuelan journalist Rafael Tejera), the Red Sox recently worked out Abreu, an outfielder, in Venezuela. Part of the session included him taking ground balls at first base.
Earlier this offseason, the Red Sox agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract with free agent Mike Napoli. However, because of concern over his hip, Boston started renegotiating, so no deal has been finalized.
The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham reported that signing Napoli remains a priority for the Red Sox, but they have also started exploring alternatives.
Boston has been in contact with Adam LaRoche, the top remaining first baseman on the free-agent market. However, The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote that the team isn't keen on signing him because of the high draft pick they’d have to surrender to the Washington Nationals under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Boston has apparently turned to an approach of leaving no stone unturned in trying to identify additional candidates to play first base.
Speier believes the workout was mutual due diligence by both team and player. However, signing the 38-year-old Abreu would be an ill-advised move of desperation for the Red Sox.
The first problem in considering Abreu to play first base is that he has never done so professionally. In 2,347 games during a 17-year major league career, he has never played anything but outfield or DH.
Once considered a good defensive outfielder, Abreu severely declined in the field in recent years. He accrued a combined dWAR of minus-6.8 over the past five seasons, displaying a noticeable lack of range according to advanced defensive metrics from BaseballReference.com.
The left-handed hitting Abreu has batted .292 for his career, with 287 home runs, 1,349 RBI and 399 stolen bases. However, saying his production has slipped in recent years would be an understatement.
Abreu’s OPS has declined every year since 2008, reaching a low of .693 last season. The last time he hit better than .255 was in 2009.
Abreu was cut after playing eight games with the Los Angeles Angels last season in order to make room for eventual Rookie of the Year Mike Trout.
Although he went out to play 92 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Abreu’s .246 batting average and three home runs made it look like he had very little left in the tank. He especially struggled down the stretch, batting just .209 after May 31.
In a recent article, Abraham wrote how he likes Abreu’s left-handed bat as a potential option off Boston’s bench if they could get him on a minor league deal. However, having the veteran take infield grounders during his tryout suggests he was auditioning for a larger role.
The Red Sox may still need a first baseman, but should avoid taking foolish risks. Even if they can’t sign Napoli, they are better off looking at the other limited, alternate options to taking on Abreu, who is in the twilight of his career.
Statistics via BaseballReference