José Abreu signs 3-year free-agent deal

The Astros pounced on their “top priority” to address their most urgent offseason need.

Houston signed free-agent first baseman José Abreu to a three-year contract Monday night, keeping the three-time All Star and former American League MVP an Astro through 2025.

Exact financial terms of the deal were not immediately known, but multiple people with knowledge of it said the expected value is around $60 million.

The Astros will introduce Abreu at a 10 a.m. news conference Tuesday alongside owner Jim Crane, who is acting as the club’s de facto general manager after parting ways with James Click earlier this month.

Abreu spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Chicago White Sox, winning American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2014 and American League MVP during the truncated 2020 season. He figures to be Houston’s everyday first baseman and hit in the middle of a suddenly lengthened lineup. One person in the organization on Monday called Abreu “our top priority” this winter.

Abreu affords the Astros a menacing righthanded middle-of-the-order bat, pairing well with lefthanded threats Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. Abreu struck 243 home runs in 1,270 games with the White Sox and boasts a career .506 slugging percentage. He’s hit 30 home runs in five of his eight 162-game seasons. 

Abreu’s career 134 OPS+ is 34 points above league average. He struck just three home runs across his final 247 plate appearances last season but managed to maintain a .368 on-base percentage, a common theme during the White Sox’s injury-filled season that led to the resignation of manager Tony La Russa. 

Abreu sacrificed some of his power last season, perhaps due to a lack of protection in Chicago’s lineup, but is still an ideal fit for Houston’s contact-centric offensive approach. Though Abreu hit just 15 home runs last year, he finished the season batting .304 with a .378 on-base percentage. Both were his highest figures since 2014. Abreu also shaved his strikeout rate to 16.2 percent, the lowest of his nine-year career.

The Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome discusses the Astros’ free-agent priorities and the situation with Justin Verlander. Video: Houston Chronicle

Abreu’s lifetime strikeout rate is 19.8 percent — nearly two points below the major league average. He can be prone to chasing outside the strike zone but has a whiff rate in line with the league average. 

Last season, Abreu posted the lowest swing rate of his career and had the highest contact rate. Only 10 qualified hitters averaged a harder exit velocity than Abreu’s 92.2 mph. Of those 10, only two had higher batting averages: American League MVP Aaron Judge and Alvarez. 

Abreu should now slot behind Alvarez in a batting order that appears far more fearsome than at any point last season. Yuli Gurriel’s decline, a center-field carousel and Jeremy Peña’s second-half struggles left Houston’s lineup without any length. Pitching masked the deficiency during the regular season. Peña authored a postseason breakout to buoy it en route to a World Series title Presuming Peña can carry over his playoff form, adding Abreu gives the Astros one of the American League’s deepest lineups. 

His addition almost certainly spells the end of Gurriel’s seven-year tenure as an everyday player. Gurriel is a free agent and, after winning the World Series, said he hoped for a reunion with the only organization he’s ever known. 

Across his Houston career, Gurriel grew into one of the clubhouse’s leaders and a cornerstone to the team’s six consecutive American League Championship Series appearances. Infielders grew reliant on him for his great scooping ability at first base, and his bat-to-ball skills were superb. Gurriel captured a Gold Glove and won a batting title in 2021. Decline in both areas last season were too drastic to ignore. 

According to FanGraphs, Abreu was worth one defensive run saved at first base last season. Baseball Savant measured him at zero outs above average. Gurriel posted negative numbers in both defensive metrics. Houston could bring Gurriel back in a part-time or utility role next season, but it’s clear the club sought an offensive upgrade to play every day. 

Enter Abreu.

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