Even at 40, Bobby Abreu fills need at cheap price

Even at 40, Bobby Abreu fills need at cheap price
January 21, 2014, 7:00 pm
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Bobby Abreu played with the Phillies from 1998 to 2006. (AP)

When an old team spends its offseason signing old players -- especially ones who started in the same city a decade earlier -- the moves will quite obviously be met with skepticism and criticism.

But in some cases age doesn't matter. In the case of 40-year-old Bobby Abreu, who fills a need for the Phillies and figures to get fewer than 10 at-bats a week, age doesn't matter.

Abreu didn't play in the majors in 2013. He had his worst professional season in 2012, hitting .242, albeit with a .350 on-base percentage. Plate discipline has always been Abreu's best skill, and his OBP in his worst season was still higher than any Phillie's last season. (Chase Utley led the team at .348.)

Abreu should give the Phillies quality at-bats off the bench. He saw 4.27 pitches per plate appearances in 2012, fifth-most in the majors.

The Phils badly needed a left-handed bench bat, and Abreu fills that role for $800,000. Prior to the signing, the Phillies' projected bench was John Mayberry Jr., Darin Ruf, Kevin Frandsen, backup catcher Wil Nieves and either Freddy Galvis or Cesar Hernandez. Aside from Hernandez, all of those players bat from the right side.

Now they have a lefty with pop who can be used off the bench. Abreu absolutely raked this winter in the Venezuelan League playoffs, hitting .464 with eight homers and five doubles and 56 at-bats for Leones del Caracas. And because his salary is non-guaranteed, the Phillies can part ways with Abreu if that success doesn't carry over into spring training. His $800,000 salary becomes guaranteed only if he makes the team.

The two moves GM Ruben Amaro Jr. completed Tuesday -- agreeing to minor-league deals with Abreu (see story) and pitcher Chad Gaudin (see story) -- were both necessary and make the Phillies a better team than they were 24 hours ago.

Neither is a high-impact player, but both fill voids. The Phillies had little rotation depth and are still very thin even after signing Gaudin, but now have a veteran who can pitch in long relief or take the ball every fifth day if Miguel A. Gonzalez doesn't pan out or if Jonathan Pettibone can't stay healthy and/or develop a second pitch.

Amaro has mentioned in recent weeks that he's wanted to fill his team's remaining vacancies with low-risk, minor-league signings, and that's exactly what he's done. Abreu and Gaudin will make, at most, a combined $1.55 million, which is less than Mayberry alone makes in 2014.

The Phillies fans who dislike everything about this offseason will still be cynical about the signing of Abreu. Tweets and e-mails flooded in Tuesday afternoon that the Phils are still far from a playoff team, whether or not they added depth and filled needs with mediocre vets.

But you know what? When you look at the landscape of the National League, there aren't many teams that look great on paper. The Nationals are the heavy favorite to win the NL East. The Cardinals should again take the Central. The Dodgers are positioned to win the West. The Braves look like a wild-card team.

After that? The Pirates are worse without A.J. Burnett and will be relying on repeat performances from Francisco Liriano, Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon. The Reds lost their second-best hitter in Shin-Soo Choo and a 202-inning starter in Bronson Arroyo. The Diamondbacks don't look better, nor do the Brewers. The Giants could again contend, but like the Phillies, they're hoping things break right.

The point is that despite the negativity from the majority of this fan base, at least one NL playoff spot will be up for grabs in 2014. And Amaro is being responsible by making all of the necessary tinkerings to position the Phillies to contend, even if that idea seems far-fetched.