In late December, Abreu turned down a two-year contract from Tampa Bay for approximately $16 million, believing that a .300 hitter who knocks in 100 runs a season could do better. For the next two months he did not receive another offer. "I kept asking myself, 'What's going on here?' " Abreu said. "The numbers are there. The numbers are always there. So what is it?"
The economy was partly to blame, but Abreu was one of many corner outfielders on the free-agent market, and because of his age (35) he was not given priority.
The Angels, who prize a peaceful clubhouse, shied away from Ramirez and looked for a less controversial option. Sensing a bargain, they went after Abreu in February to see if they could get him for the cut rate of one year, $5 million. He took the deal. He had no choice. It had been two months since his last offer. By then he had all but ruled out a long-term contract, anyway, eager to prove his true value and test the market again. Abreu had instructed his agents,
Six months later, Abreu is batting .307 with 81 RBIs. Bradley is batting .250 with 31 RBIs. Burrell is batting .235 with 46 RBIs. Ramirez is batting .303 with 45 RBIs and a 50-game drug suspension. The Angels are at the top of the American League West, largely because of Abreu, who has solidified the middle of their lineup and showed their younger hitters how to work counts. Ever since the Angels won the World Series in 2002 they have been a team of free-swingers, capturing division titles but falling apart in the playoffs. This year they rank second in the majors in on-base percentage at .354, a figure that portends success in the postseason.
"We've changed because of Bobby," Angels center fielder
Angels hitting coach
"I tell him all the time," Hatcher said, " 'Abreu, you've got the Latin guys.' "
Abreu can often be spotted on the bench next to shortstop
"They're taking a different road this year," said Tampa Bay manager
Abreu is showing them the way. He is not only one of the most underpaid players in baseball, but also one of the most underrated. Not since he was a rookie in 1997 has he batted less than .280. Not since 2002 has he driven in fewer than 100 runs. Only six players in major league history have 2,000 hits, 1,000 RBIs, 1,000 walks, 1,000 runs, 300 steals and 250 home runs:
He will hit the free-agent market again this winter and, chances are, teams will still be concerned about his age and the economy. But after the season Abreu is putting together in Anaheim, he is in line for a raise.