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White Sox Thu Nov 13 2014

Sale and Abreu are Award-Caliber Talent

Chicago White SoxDespite only winning 73 games, the White Sox had two of the best players in the league this year.

Wednesday night, Chris Sale finished third in American League Cy Young vote, trailing winner Corey Kluber and runner-up Felix Hernandez. Just two days prior, it was announced that first baseman Jose Abreu won the AL Rookie of the Year via a unanimous vote. The MVP vote will be revealed tonight and both Sale and Abreu will surely get a few votes for that award as well.

What more is there to say about Sale and Abreu? They each passed the eye test by being exceedingly fun to watch. They each played some impressive games and slapped together some notable streaks. They were each worth more than 5.5 wins and, most importantly, they are under contract at team-friendly rates for virtually the rest of the decade.

So, what more is there to say? Well, a few things.

***

The American League had a loaded field for the Cy Young Award this year. Jon Lester gutted the floundering A's to a playoff berth, Max Scherzer didn't fall off far from the stats he had when he won the Cy Young in 2013 and David Price led the league in innings and had the best strikeout rate in his career. None came close to winning the award.

The race between Kluber, Hernandez and Sale was really close in terms of stats, as they each led certain categories and weren't far behind in the ones they trailed in. It was a virtual three-way tie. The difference in Sale's case came down to the lack of innings pitched: he had eight fewer starts and 62 fewer innings than Kluber.

***

Clayton Kershaw won the National League Cy Young again. While Kershaw is the definitive best pitcher in baseball, he will begin a six-year, $193 million extension next season. That's around $32 million per season. Kershaw will be 27 and hasn't had any serious arm issues, so this is on the lower end of the risk spectrum (keep in mind that signing any pitcher is inherently risky, though).

Sale could be considered the best pitcher in the American League, especially as Kluber seeks to keep up his performance and Hernandez turns 29 with a little diminished velocity. He will only cost the White Sox a maximum of $53.2 million total over the next five years.

While both the Sox and Dodgers are big market teams (and the Dodgers have more money than the Sultan of Brunei -- so money really isn't an issue) would you rather have Kershaw at his price or Sale at his?

OK, fine, probably still Kershaw, just because he's being compared to Sandy Koufax and 1999-2000 Pedro Martinez. But, per dollar, Sale is the better deal.

***

Abreu was so good this year that he didn't even seem like a rookie -- part of that is because he is 27. When Miguel Cabrera was 27, he was already in his eighth major league season and was finishing his sixth year with more than 30 home runs, but the main reason why is because rookies don't even come close to playing as well as Abreu did.

He had the fifth-highest WAR among AL rookies over the last 25 years at 5.5, trailing Trout in 2010 (10.8), Ichiro in 2001 (7.7), Nomar Garciaparra in 1997 (6.6) and Kenny Lofton in 1992 (6.6). He also set the White Sox rookie home run record.

It's not like he hit a rookie wall, either. Though 29 of Abreu's 36 homers came in the first half, he was almost a stronger hitter in the second half. He walked more, struck out less and hit a higher rate of doubles. Abreu showed he could do it all.

***

Between Abreu, Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes, Cuban ballplayers have become baseball's new market inefficiency. Cubans come to the states either in their prime or nearer to their prime than other domestic and foreign players, and teams can sign them outright and move them to the bigs immediately or after a short minor league stint. Unlike with Japanese players, there's no posting fees to their overseas club.

But even with these advantages, there's still that mystery that surrounds these players. How will they adjust to facing major-league talent? Because of the uncertainty, teams were able to get Cuban players on the cheap. Cespedes originally signed with the A's for four years, $36 million. The Dodgers signed a 21-year-old Puig for seven years, $42 million. Looking back, it seemed the Sox broke the bank for six years, $68 million. If they were all free agents today they would certainly command more than that.

This summer the Red Sox signed outfielder Rusney Castillo to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal. With so many of these players panning out along with the lure of the short turnaround and high upside these players present, expect the contracts to rise and for the competitive advantage to lessen.

***

As was said earlier, the Sox have two of the best players in the game, and two of the most important assets a baseball team could have. They have Sale, an ace who can win any matchup and presumably win two games in a postseason series himself, and they have Abreu, a constant threat in the lineup that teams will have to plan for multiple batters ahead of time.

But that's not all the Sox have. The club will have Jose Quintana and quite possibly Carlos Rodon in the rotation next year, along with Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia in the outfield, Alexei Ramirez at short and Conor Gillaspie's bat somewhere in the lineup. They're not set, but they're almost there.

They need multiple relievers, but as we see year after year it doesn't take a lot of money to turn bullpen around. They need two starting pitchers, but there are some passable rotation options out there. They can use a DH but it seems the market is stocked with them. If they can shuffle the fielding arrangement and add a few defensive-minded players, they'll address one of their key weaknesses from last year.

The Sox are getting some buzz as an early sleeper team for 2015. It's crazy to think about that, especially since 2014 is so fresh in our minds, but the Sox are closer to the postseason than they are to the cellar. That's in large part due to the Rookie of the Year and the near-Cy Young winner.

 
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