Thursday, March 27, 2014

Abreu Into the Sunset

In about ten years, assuming that NASA study is incorrect and society hasn't collapsed into a Mad Max-style hellscape, we'll be talking about Bobby Abreu the way baseball statheads now talk about Tim Raines or Bobby Grich or Dewey Evans. He'll be the guy whose numbers don't scream "HALL OF FAME" at first look, but when you look at them more closely, you start realizing how good he was, and for how long.

And then you realize that there's no way in hell he's getting into Cooperstown, and you write angry tweets or something with the hashtag #Abreu4TheHall, which make you feel better but don't get him any closer to upstate New York.

But I digress.

The Phillies, who had brought Abreu in to spring training on an NRI, told him today that he wasn't going to be making the team. That was a mild surprise, as he'd had a pretty solid spring (.429 OBA) and the Phillies have been having position players drop like flies from oblique strains, MRSA, and presumably dropsy and unbalanced humours. Then again Bobby's 40 years old, didn't play in the majors last year, can't run, can't field, and has lost most of his power. So unless the Phillies were looking for the second coming of late-stage Manny Mota, he really didn't fit.

Which is a kind of sad way for the guy to end his career, if indeed this is the end. Abreu made his bones in Philly after being stolen from the early, not-genius Devil Rays during the expansion draft in exchange for punchless shortstop Kevin Stocker.

(True story: I once watched a game against the Rockies were Stocker hit one out and the announcers basically held up that as proof that baseball as we knew it was borked in Denver. Because if Stocker could hit a no-doubter out of there, then anyone could.)

He had a great run in Philly. You could pencil him in every year for 20-30 homers, 100 RBIs, 100 walks, 20+ stolen bases, and solid doubles and triples numbers, too. Sure, there were mutterings about his effort on defense, but what the hell, it's Philly. The gold standard for defense there is either Gary Maddox or Aaron Rowand, and since Abreu wasn't about to break his face on the wall chasing a homer, the fans got on him. (Metrics show him as slightly below average, fwiw).

In 2006 the Phillies shipped him off to the Yankees for a couple of pairs of used sweat socks as part of their Pat Gillick-mandated fire sale. He stuck in New York for a couple of years, then bounced out to the West Coast for a few more. 2012 was his last year, and the first one since his early days in Houston with an OPS+ below 100. Even in his fading days he was putting up OBPs north of .350. And along the way he collected a few down-ballot MVP votes, a Silver Slugger and (don't tell anyone in Philly) a Gold Glove. One year he led the league in doubles, another, in triples. And year after year he kept cranking out the production. From 1998 to 2005, he ran out a string of OPS+ numbers that looked like this: 136, 147, 143, 142, 151, 136, 145, 126. That's a whole lot of production - not showy, not spectacular at any given moment. But production nonetheless.

If this is it, he steps off the stage with 2437 hits, 287 homers and 399 steals, a career OBP of .396 and a career OPS+ of 129. Those aren't numbers that scream "Hall of Fame", but they might whisper them, if you listen closely. 

And today, the team that gave him his first real shot said his services weren't needed. Maybe he'll bounce around for a while longer. Maybe he'll try to catch on in Japan or somewhere else. Maybe he'll officially hang it up, and the Phillies can do one of those one-day contracts so he can retire in red pinstripes. But if this is the way it ends, it ends in a way that matches his career: quietly, under the radar, and with no one quite realizing what he'd been doing all along.
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