The Pittsburgh Pirates are the most exciting story in baseball this year. The baseball gods have not seen fit to make Jose Abreu mashing home runs in a Pirates uniform and leading them to a surprise World Series title a possibility this year, so lets think about this possibility for next year.
Should the Pirates sign Abreu? The thought of making a big free agent signing and having it turn into the next Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton signings is enough to give most GM's a hernia. There are some reasons for the Bucs to be cautious here. After lighting the league on fire last year Yoenis Cespedes is hitting .230/.296/.437 this year for the A's. His batting average is way down and his strikeout rate is up. His offensive WAR for this season is 1.4 after being 4.5 last year. Would Abreu have one good season before he falls off a cliff?
For a team that doesn't have the spending clout of the Dodgers or Yankees the Pirates have to be very careful with their free agent signings. Blowing their wad on the next Josh Hamilton would be a disaster for a club that is trying to set itself up to compete on a yearly basis, should they do it on a guy that has spent his entire career in the Cuban league?
Let's look at what we know for certain a Jose Abreu signing would bring to this team. Among Pirates regulars the worst has probably been Jose Tabata, but right behind him is first baseman Gaby Sanchez. Sanchez's .241/.352/.406 is not inspiring to say the least. With almost three quarters of the season having been played Sanchez's offensive production has been worth almost a whole win. Factor in his negative defensive WAR and he's basically cost the Pirates one-tenth of a win over 118 games this season. The Pirates have a replacement for Tabata ready in the minor leagues in prospect Gregory Polanco, who should hit the big leagues by the middle of next season. Adding a legitimate middle of the order bat at first base would fill the biggest whole the Pirates currently have.
But let's put the stats aside for a minute. Let's let our imaginations run wild. If any fan base deserves to it's Pirates fans right? Say Bob Nutting opens up the purse strings. Neal Huntington goes after Abreu and they sign him for 5 years $50 million. For an ownership group that has shown a lack of willingness to spend money and is only now gaining credibility with the team's fan base wouldn't this be a huge step for the franchise? Casual and everyday Pirates fans would see an owner committing to the team financially in a way they haven't seen since the early 90's when Barry Bonds was in a Pirates uniform. Die-hard fans who are weary from being burned so many times would have their passion for the team rekindled, and with them would come casual fans spending money at the ball park and at the store for Pirates gear. More fans equals more revenue for the Pirates ownership group. In a city that supports its sports teams like Pittsburgh, its a guarantee. Heck, $50 million? Abreu would pay for himself.
For all the skeptics out there, let's say this is the worst case scenario: Abreu signs and like fellow Cubans Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig he sets the baseball world on fire in his first year. The team makes a deep playoff run maybe even ending in a world series appearance and possibly a title. Pirates nation goes crazy and is having dreams of the second coming of Roberto Clemente with a first baseman's glove. In his second season Abreu takes the Cespedes route and goes into a slump. The Bucs still do well but the season ends without a world series. In year three of the deal Abreu makes a comeback and the Pirates make another great postseason run, possibly ending in a world series title. In years four and five of the deal he is terrible and contributes Gaby Sanchez levels of production.
Now let's look at the best case scenario: Abreu signs and is the second coming of Tony Perez mixed with El Duque. He leads the Pirates to multiple World Series appearances, clubbing the hell out of the ball in the postseason and killing postseason opponents with a line of .370//450/.975 and cementing a Pirates dynasty with two World Series titles. Admit it, the thought of a Pirates player dominating postseason opponents El Duque style in the late 90's made you giddy with excitement. Even considering this as a possibility for the Pirates was unthinkable five, scratch that, three years ago.
But come on, even if the Pirates get the worst case scenario Abreu, isn't it still worth it? Pittsburgh hasn't seen that level of excitement in baseball for over 20 years. If years four and five of the deal keep Neal Huntington awake at night then make sure the contract doesn't include a no-trade clause, or at best, a partial no-trade clause and ship him to a team needing a DH in year four of the deal for cash and and a low A player. The club is still in great shape and interest in the Pirates is at an all time high. Team Nutting still gets what they want out of the transaction. There is little downside here.
Yes, the Pirates have never been huge spenders on free agency. Signing Abreu would be their biggest free agent acquisition since basically, well, Russell Martin. But that's why it would also be a symbolic moment for the franchise. What better way is there to announce that a competitive Pirates team is here to stay than with their biggest free agent signing of all time?
Let's face it. "The Collapse" isn't coming. This is a Pirates team worthy of investing in. Hell, if the front office plays its cards right and makes smart roster decisions, its a potential dynasty.