The End for Abreu, Possibly . . .

Abreu—approaching the end of a solid career?

Someone had to go in order for the Los Angeles Dodgers to clear a spot for incoming Shane Victorino, and it looks as though veteran Bobby Abreu, Victorino’s former Philadelphia Phillies teammate, is the unlucky candidate. The Dodgers designated him for assignment Wednesday.

It isn’t that Abreu had become baggage by any means—in seventy games he had a .359 on-base percentage, though he wasn’t hitting quite to his one-time level—but the Dodgers for now just had little enough role for him now other than pinch-hitting duty, with an outfield of Victorino, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier. Clearly, according to ESPN, manager Don Mattingly wasn’t all that anxious to let Abreu go just yet.

Bobby kind of came at a time when we had some guys hurt, did a great job for us. He’s another guy in the clubhouse who’s been good with the young players, talking to them about hitting. To me, he’s an intelligent guy who understands the game and everything that’s going on with it. He’s just good for guys.

Once a Phillies mainstay who became a better than useful player with the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels, Abreu found himself released in late April when Mike Trout—making a solid Rookie of the Year and American League Most Valuable Player case (he leads the Show in WAR at this writing)—was promoted to stay.

The Dodgers picked him up with the Angels paying most of his $9 million 2012 salary. Mattingly hopes the Dodgers can hold onto Abreu in one way or another, pending his acceptance to Albuquerque (AAA) until the Show rosters can expand 1 September, ESPN says. The Dodgers have ten days to trade or release the veteran otherwise; if they find a deal to their reluctant liking, Abreu could still help a team as a designated hitter who can still hit reasonably enough (his outfield skills, which were never formidable, have all but eroded) as well as mentoring their younger hitters.

Abreu himself was realistic about his role with the Dodgers during July, even though his once-formidable power numbers were no longer possible at age 38.

I never change my approach. I’m just trying to work the count, get on base and start rallies. I’ve got good guys behind me that can knock home some runs, so I just need to get on base.

If this is approaching the end of Abreu’s line, though, he would leave the game with a formidable resume. Over seventeen major league seasons, he is, at this writing, number 23 on the all-time doubles list (he led the National League in 2002 with 50 doubles), and he’s number 51 all time in times on base. In parts of 17 seasons, Abreu has amassed 2,434 hits and drawn 1,451 walks. He actually ranks 51st in baseball history in overall times on base. Perhaps more impressive: His 565 doubles rank 23rd in the history of baseball. He’s driven in 100 or more runs in a season eight times.

In his heyday with the Phillies . . .

And, Abreu has more WAR than a small boatload of players including a few Hall of Famers—his 57 overall WAR through this writing are more than Hall of Famers Zack Wheat, Yogi Berra, Willie Stargell, Bill Dickey, Joe Medwick, Tony Perez, and Kirby Puckett, among others; among active players, he’s behind only (in ascending order) Adrian Beltre, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Carlos Beltran, Roy Halladay, Derek Jeter, Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols, and Alex Rodriguez. He has 57.3 offensive WAR, which puts him in the top hundred all-time in that isolated category.

He was highly enough valued even as he approached the apparent end. What might be forgotten now is this: before the Yankees unloaded A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter, they wanted to bring Abreu back (he’d been a useful Yankee from 2006-2008 and, among other things, stole the last known base in the old Yankee Stadium before it closed) and offered Burnett to the Angels for him.

The Angels were willing to do it. They respected Abreu while having no room for him as a regular anymore, after he’d played well enough for them over three seasons, making a parallel reputation for shepherding their younger hitters toward better plate patience. But Burnett scotched the deal, infuriating Abreu, who wanted to go to the Yankees if the Angels couldn’t play him every day (the Yankees sought DH help last winter and Abreu would have fit the plan well enough) when they had young comers ready to step up.

Burnett ended up with the Pirates, where he’s enjoying a renaissance of his own. (He’s got a respectable record on the season thus far and damn near no-hit the Cubs the other night.) Abreu ended up further fighting the reality that age was finally catching up to him in terms of regular play, demanding the Angels play him as an everyday DH or trade him. (The Angels also couldn’t swing a deal with the Indians for him.) Then, they released him to make room for Trout.

Abreu actually might have gotten back to the Yankees in another way. Strange as it may seem, considering how the Phillies unloaded him to the Yankees for a package of non-entities at the 2006 non-waiver deadline, the Phillies had ideas last winter about dealing for Abreu—it was thought they’d send Joe Blanton to the Angels for Abreu, then flip Abreu to the Yankees for Burnett. That deal didn’t pan out, either.

The Phillies did become a National League East powerhouse after the original Abreu trade. But Abreu’s image as a clubhouse cancer may actually have stemmed from his concern that, as good as they looked, those Phillies weren’t as close to contending as some thought. And the Phillies’ rise may have had less to do with moving Abreu than you might think.

You wonder if the Phillies would have bagged more than one World Series ring in the coming run if they’d kept him, especially since Abreu did help the Yankees win the American League East in 2006 and the American League wild card in 2007. (He also played well for them in those two division series, both of which the Yankees lost.) You wonder if the Phillies would have done better in their impressive run had they gotten better for Abreu, since his value was at its absolute peak at the time of that trade. Bleacher Report isn’t the only one who wonders if there weren’t better offers on the table for him (only one of the minor leaguers who went to the Phillies is still with the organisation), and whether the 2006 Phillies used the chemistry issue to beard a salary dump.

Abreu may have a solid future ahead of him as a hitting instructor, at least. He’s smart enough to become a manager, even. He’s been, basically, one of the game’s quiet stars, a solid hitter with an off-the-chart ability to work pitch counts (he often led his league in pitches seen) and reach base. (He has averaged 126 strikeouts per 162 games lifetime, but he’s also averaged 101 walks per 162.) As a matter of fact, according to the Bill James definitions, Abreu meets 54 of the Hall of Fame batting standards (the average Hall of Famer would meet 50) and scores 94 on the Hall of Fame batting monitor.

I bet you didn’t realise Abreu shook out through this writing as just about an average Hall of Famer. The kind who snuck up on you when you almost weren’t looking, even if his case, if he has one, would be made almost entirely by his bat and his ability to reach base. (At best, Abreu was a serviceable outfielder; at worst, he could be a bit of a klutz whom people thought, perhaps wrongly, was dogging it.) I don’t think he will become a Hall of Famer; I’d have to say his odds are long enough. (Among other liabilities: he’s only ever been an All-Star twice.) But never let anyone tell you this guy was anything less than a thoroughgoing professional who learned to use his skills as they were, not as he might have hoped they’d be.

Abreu’s been a  brainy hitter with quite a bit of power, brilliance on the basepaths (bet you didn’t realise his lifetime stolen base percentage as of today is .756) and quite a bit of run productivity. (He averaged 194 runs produced per 162 games lifetime, through this writing.) He learned his strengths, played with and to them, and did whatever he could do within them to help his teams win, even if his teams often didn’t realise what they would miss until after they let him go.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Bobby Abreu has been almost the same hitter on the road as he’s been at home. He has only twenty less lifetime home runs on the road; his road OBP and slugging percentages aren’t that far off his home figures; and, he’s been practically even up between the first and second halves of a season. He was as consistent as they came when his skills were at full strength.

His best months, lifetime: June and September/October, in both of which he’s a lifetime .400+ hitter. Situational hitting: .942 OPS with runners in scoring position; .855 with a man on third and two out;  .928 with two out and men in scoring position; 1.052 with two out and the bases loaded; .855 when the game was late and close; and, .882 when the game was tied or within a run either way.

In other words, Bobby Abreu was an excellent clutch hitter. Maybe not quite a Hall of Fame-caliber clutch hitter, but you never should have been anywhere close to a nervous breakdown if he was at the plate and the game was on the line or close enough to it.

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