CHICAGO -- When Ken Williams watched Jose Abreu during an open workout in the Dominican Republic about one month ago, the White Sox executive vice president had an unprecedented reaction.
"Well, he's the only player that I've seen work out and then play in a game that I wanted to give a standing ovation to," said a smiling Williams after Tuesday's press conference to announce Abreu had joined the White Sox via a six-year, $68-million deal.
The 26-year-old from Cuba receives a $10-million signing bonus and is set to be paid $7 million in 2014 and '15, $10 million in '16, $10.5 million in '17, $11.5 million in '18 and $12 million in '19. It's the biggest deal in franchise history in terms of total money.
According to Barry Praver, Abreu's agent, the powerful first baseman can opt out of his contract when he first becomes eligible for arbitration and opt into arbitration despite the White Sox maintaining control over his contract. Abreu becomes the 17th Cuban native to suit up for the White Sox, joining teammates Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo, who provided valuable insight to general manager Rick Hahn in this recruitment process.
Already known as a plus-plus player on the power end, Williams hearkened back to that Dominican workout, stressing that Abreu will do more than just hit home runs.
"It was the most professional exhibition of hitting and really defensive work the way he went about things. It was professional. It was focused. It was geared to not just impress, but impress the right way," Williams said. "One of the things that we did not want to entertain was a guy who was just one dimensional. This guy is a hitter.
"You will see him hit the ball to right-center field as hard as Dayan Viciedo, for instance. It's a low-maintenance swing that requires very little effort. The power comes easy, comes naturally. It's just an impressive skill set."
It was impressive enough for the White Sox to stay focused on negotiations with Abreu in what Praver described as a competitive two-week process, starting from the time when teams were asked to submit their initial offers. Eight organizations were serious contenders, and Praver mentioned that five finalists made offers in the $60-million neighborhood.
Praver would not confirm if the White Sox were the highest bidder.
"I'm not going to get into the specifics of what deal he took," Praver said. "It was competitive and he had choices."
On Tuesday, Abreu showed off his No. 79 jersey, which is the number he wore in Cuba after his mother, Daisy, picked it for him when he asked her to select a number that would stand out. The 6-foot-3, 258-pound player made his debut with Cienfuegos in the Serie Nacional (Cuban National Series) in 2004 at age 17, and he hit .453 with 33 homers, 93 RBIs, a .597 on-base percentage and .986 slugging percentage in 2010-11.
But it wasn't until Abreu batted .360 with three homers and nine RBIs over six games for Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic that he fully realized Major League Baseball success was a possibility. Abreu liked that the White Sox were interested in him from the beginning and understood that he'd receive unique support from Viciedo and Ramirez during the expected adjustment period.
"I have to give a lot of thanks to the Cuban players who are playing for the White Sox who created this atmosphere where I feel comfortable coming here," said Abreu through translator and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez, with White Sox and Cuban legend Minnie Minoso sitting a few feet in front of them. "Having spoken with them about the White Sox, about the organization, it makes things easier and made the decision easier. I'm thankful to them for giving me that perspective.
"So much has been said about my power and the home runs I hit, but more than hitting home runs, when I'm at the plate, my mindset is to make sure I do what's needed for the team, whatever is needed at that moment, whatever the team needs of me. That's my strategy of play. I'm not thinking of home runs more than anything, it's just delivering what I'm asked to do."
Although Hahn certainly wasn't going to put Chicago's reshaping process squarely on the shoulders of Abreu, the slugger may very well stand at the center of this team's turnaround. He will help the team compete in 2014, but more importantly, he will join the likes of Avisail Garcia and other players still developing in the Minors to give the White Sox a strong young core to sustain success.
This acquisition cost the White Sox money, but not players or Draft picks, a point Hahn brought up during a conversation he had with White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and Williams.
"What we're doing here is reallocating resources we cleared off last summer and devoting them to something we felt was the long-term benefit," Hahn said. "No doubt it is a bit of a leap of faith. But at the end of the day, you have to trust your scouts. You've got to trust your objective evaluation process, find out about the makeup and the fit. And Jerry gets that.
"He's fully cognizant and fully aware of the risk. At the end of the day, he knew this was something that was going to make us stronger for the long term, which is what he wants."