In case you haven’t been following the Venezuelan Winter League closely because, perhaps, you are normal and have a life, you may have missed the fact that Bobby Abreu is having a great winter. He’s having a great winter in the way that Barry Bonds had a great 2002 or Neil Armstrong had a great 1969.
Abreu, playing for Leones del Caracas, hit .322/.416/.461 during the Venezuelan regular season, only to outdo himself in the playoffs. On Monday night, Abreu hit his eighth home run of the playoffs, capping a five-run ninth inning for his Leones with a walk-off single to give them a 14-13 victory.
Of course, Abreu is two months shy of his 40th birthday and didn’t play in the majors at all in 2013 after struggling badly in 2012, so other than producing us with interesting anecdotes during the slowest month of the baseball year, Abreu’s performance may not mean a thing to you. But if you’re a fan of a team that plans on employing a terrible DH this season, it might.
—The Minnesota Twins have penciled Jason Kubel in as their DH.
—Chris Carter is prepared to continue to rack up strikeouts for the Houston Astros.
—The Oakland A’s will work catcher John Jaso in as one of several players there, but would be better served if Jaso could catch instead.
Could Abreu be more effective than any of those players? Perhaps. He had a poor 2012 season, but he appears rejuvenated this winter, even when taking into consideration the level of competition in the VWL.
But what are the odds of a 40-year-old being a productive major league hitter after taking a year off?
Short of surveying Las Vegas, the best way to attempt to answer this is to look back in baseball history. There have been plenty of productive offensive players at age 40, though as far as I can tell, none of their truly productive seasons came after a hiatus. That will be difficult to factor in. But for now, I want to look at 40-year-olds who fit Abreu’s profile, meaning left-handed hitters with strong walk rates. A search of 40-year-old seasons since 1961 by left-handed hitters with at least a 12 percent walk rate (Abreu’s was over 14 in 2012) gave me this group, sorted by offensive bWAR:
There are a lot of numbers there signaling different things about Abreu’s chances, but what I take away is that there’s a chance he could be a pretty nice asset for a few teams. Abreu still takes his walks and is showing enough bat speed this winter to hit for moderate power, making him a better option than anyone the Orioles and Twins will use and most of the A’s non-Jaso options. The Astros have enough 1B/DH types, and Carter was an above-average offensive player despite the strikeouts, so they’re probably not interested, but the point remains that some bad hitters will be DH-ing this season. There always are.
Abreu never had the power of guys like Thome, Musial and Jackson, but even if you knock his power down by an appropriate percentage, you still have the opportunity for a productive hitter.
At this point, Abreu is probably a platoon player and shouldn’t even own a glove, but if he’s interested in returning to major league baseball, there’s probably a team that could use his bat. Teams like the A’s—or the Rays, who have a solid DH option in Matt Joyce but are always looking to be creative—have a propensity for using players in situations which fit them best and giving them the best opportunity to succeed. They could milk the final productive at-bats out of Abreu’s storied career.