Cubs look like geniuses for passing on this big-name free agent last winter

Despite a glaring need at first base, Jed Hoyer refused to go outside his comfort zone in efforts to land former AL MVP Jose Abreu - and it's looking smarter by the day.
Division Series - Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins - Game Three
Division Series - Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins - Game Three / David Berding/GettyImages

Even knowing now how poorly the ill-fated first base tandem of Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer fared in 2023, the Chicago Cubs more than made up for that choice with their decision to not hand former American League MVP Jose Abreu a three-year deal in free agency.

Jed Hoyer reportedly offered Abreu a two-year deal, which the longtime White Sox first baseman declined, instead signing with the Houston Astros on a three-year, $58.5 million pact. After a disappointing first season with the club, things have quickly gone from bad to worse for Abreu in H-Town.

His Baseball Savant page tells you everything you need to know. The 37-year-old ranks in the bottom 1 percent of the league in XBA, XSLG, WOBA and XWOBA, the bottom 2 percent of the league in hard-hit rate and the bottom 7 percent in walk rate. That's culminated in a -31 OPS+ on the year (to be honest, I didn't even realize going negative in OPS+ was even possible).

Here in 2024, Abreu has, simply, stopped drawing walks. Even by his below-league average career mark of 7.0% - the veteran is drawing walks in just 2.4% of his trips to the plate. His exit velocity measurements show a guy who's got nothing left in the tank, falling even below his career-worst marks from a year ago.

Cubs dodged a major bullet by not signing Jose Abreu; instead have a bright future with Michael Busch in the fold

To think Houston is on the hook for not only $19.5 million this season, but another $19.5 million in 2025 is jarring, to say the least. For a team like the Cubs, who deeply value finding and maximizing value with every member of the 26-man roster, it's slightly terrifying to think Chicago could have gotten out from under Jason Heyward's dead-weight contract only to trade it for Abreu's which, somehow, looks even worse.

Instead, Hoyer traded for Dodgers top prospect Michael Busch this winter and he's been impressive early on in his first extended taste of big league action. Carrying a 131 OPS+ through the first couple weeks of the season, the 26-year-old former first-rounder is looking more and more like a long-term answer at the position.

Sometimes, the moves you don't make wind up being as valuable as the ones you do. In the case of refusing to budge on Abreu, Jed Hoyer may have quietly made one of the best decisions of his tenure as Cubs president of baseball operations.