At the 2005 All-Star Game held in Detroit, Abreu hit something like 25 home runs in one round, a ton of them in a row. It was quite a show. I was sitting in the auxiliary press area in the right field stands as the left-handed batter launched pitch after pitch into the night sky. The baseballs were crashing all around us. Eventually one of the shots landed to my left and I watched as a writer reached forward to catch it but failed. The ball bounced away as the table and the table adjacent to it and the table in front of it all flipped over, sending drinks, hot dogs, lap tops, and startled sportswriters flying. Still one of my favorite moments covering baseball.
There have been far more lopsided trades in the last twenty-five years than there were in any twenty five-year stretch in baseball history, I think. I don’t have the research to support that claim, but it seems self evident. Jeff Bagwell, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, and Miguel Cabrera all slipped from the clutches of teams only to go on to do superstar things for their new clubs.
On November 18, 1997, the Devil Rays traded Bobby Abreu to the Phillies for shortstop Kevin Stocker, a former top prospect. Stocker was a switch-hitter who as a rookie in 1993 came up and won the starting job at short with the Phillies and helped them to the pennant by hitting .324 in half a season. He never did anything like that again, never developed the pop the Phils hoped he would. In fact he never had more than 33 extra-base hits in a season. Abreu played nine years in Philadelphia and got MVP votes in five of those seasons. He was a fantastic player: he could do all the five things. The Phils made a mistake when they traded him to the Yankees before he could “get old” at the age of 31. Bobby had five more solid years after leaving Philly.
In some ways he was like Jose Cruz, also a corner outfielder who toiled anonymously on teams with bigger stars and had five-tool skills. Both players were excellent base stealers. Abreu has one of the best success rates of players with at least 400 stolen bases.
In the post-integration era, among right fielders, Abreu’s 138 OPS+ in his first ten seasons ranks tenth. The first time he was given a chance tom play every day he posted a 135 OPS+, so it’s obvious he was ready to be in the lineup before he was 24. Had either of his first two teams played him in his early twenties, Abreu might have picked up the 500+ more hits he needed to get near 3,000 and he would have certainly topped 300 homers, 600 doubles, and 1,500 runs and RBIs. Couple that with his 400+ stolen bases and his Gold Gloves and Bobby would have a strong Hall of Fame case.