CHICAGO -- If all goes according to plan, the White Sox soon will begin doling out a reported $68 million to a player who never has been in a major league game.
The risk of the deal with Cuban slugger Jose Abreu is one the organization thinks it should take to hasten its ascent to relevance after a 63-99 season.
A source told the Chicago Tribune on Thursday that Abreu and the Sox have an agreement, pending a physical and barring last-minute complications. The Sox will pay what would come out to an average of $11.3 million annually over six years for what they hope will be a spark to the often stagnant offense of 2013.
An international scout from the National League said the price seems a little steep, though the Sox like that they don't have to give up draft picks as they might for a major league free agent or prospects in a trade. And the scout said it could pay off in the mold of other Cuban players like the Oakland Athletics' Yoenis Cespedes and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig.
"Some might be surprised (the bidding) got up that high," said Ben Badler, a reporter for Baseball America who covers international prospects and has followed Abreu's career the last few years. "But there's also an understanding Abreu is the type of player who has the talent to justify that kind of contract."
The first word that pops up when discussing the 26-year-old first baseman is power, a welcome idea for a team that finished 19th in the majors with 148 home runs in 2013 and doesn't have a lot in reserve. At 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, Abreu used his strength to put up some eye-catching numbers during his time playing with Cienfuegos in Cuba's Serie Nacional.
In 2010-11, he led the league with a .453 batting average and, in 66 games, had 33 home runs and 93 RBIs, numbers close to those of Cespedes that season. Abreu compiled a .394 average, 35 home runs and 99 RBIs the next season.
Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo, also from Cuba, said over the summer that Abreu's bat sticks out.
"He's a good hitter," Viciedo said through a team interpreter. "He always has been representing Cuba in international tournaments, and he always has been good. I wouldn't go past that in saying anything else. But he's a good hitter."
Badler watched Abreu at the World Baseball Classic in Japan in March and called him "a very smart hitter." The Sox believe that along with his power he has shown he can hit for average with sound plate discipline.
The major question is whether his skills will translate against major league pitching.
Badler said he has heard concerns about Abreu's average bat speed and hitting mechanics that affect the way he handles high velocity pitches on the inner third of the plate. Abreu also is not known to be extremely athletic and could have to watch his conditioning through the years if he wants to be used as more than a designated hitter.
The Sox are willing to face those issues with a player they hope will hit his prime during the impending contract and aid the franchise's turnaround from one of its worst seasons in history.
(Tribune reporter Mark Gonzales contributed to this story.)
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