Bobby Abreu has a plan in place
OF taking season off to tend to personal business, but wants to play again in 2014
Every winter, a bunch of accomplished big leaguers leave the game with minimal fanfare. Not everyone is like Chipper Jones, a guy who enjoyed a farewell tour in 2012 and even received a call from the New York Yankees this spring asking whether he might be interested in one more go-round at age 40.
Far from it.
Jim Thome, seventh on baseball's career list with 612 home runs, has quietly faded from the scene. Scott Rolen all but officially retired. Carlos Lee, Johnny Damon, Freddy Sanchez, Carlos Zambrano, Francisco Rodriguez, Orlando Hudson, Jason Bartlett and Adam Kennedy are out of baseball at the moment. Even Ryan Theriot, who scored the winning run in the deciding game of the World Series, is unemployed. According to his agents at the Beverly Hills Sports Council, Theriot "is enjoying himself with his kids at home."
Some players stay home because they never received an offer, or the money wasn't appealing enough, or they didn't want to go to camp on a non-guaranteed deal and compete for a job. Others, such as Roy Oswalt, have given indications they still want to play this season. And an additional group -- led by Brian Wilson, Carl Pavano, Dallas Braden, Grady Sizemore and Randy Wolf -- is in injury rehab mode and likely to return at a later date.
Then there's Bobby Abreu, whose career status can be filed under "none of the above."
Abreu, a two-time All-Star with 2,437 career hits, still wants to play even though he tried and failed to land a contract over the winter. He plans to take this season off and focus on his business interests as a budding entrepreneur in his native Venezuela, then play winter ball for the Leones del Caracas starting in October as a prelude to a comeback attempt in 2014.
"Bobby still thinks he has something left to offer," said Peter Greenberg, Abreu's agent. "He still thinks he can help somebody, and he has some personal milestones that would probably be nice to cross."
As a 39-year-old hitter with minimal defensive value, Abreu found the going tough over the winter. The Red Sox watched him work out in Venezuela, and the Indians kicked the tires on him before signing Jason Giambi, who was willing to come to camp on a minor league deal that paid him $750,000 when he made the big league roster. The Orioles also kept Abreu on their radar during spring training but ultimately headed in a different direction.
Abreu passed on offers from Mexico and the independent Atlantic League, where Vladimir Guerrero, Dontrelle Willis and other veterans will play this summer in hopes of being seen by the scouts. He also received feelers from a team in Taiwan last week. But barring a sudden change of heart, he will not be joining Manny Ramirez in the Chinese Professional Baseball League.
Abreu might not be Hall of Fame-worthy -- his closest career comparable on Baseball-Reference.com is Bernie Williams -- but he has some impressive numbers on his résumé. He ranks 23rd on MLB's career list with 565 doubles, and his .396 on-base percentage puts him ahead of Rod Carew, Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson and Tony Gwynn in that category. He enjoyed a lot of productive seasons under the big-market glare in Philadelphia and New York before spending last year in Los Angeles with the Angels and Dodgers.
About those milestones: Abreu needs 13 homers and one stolen base to be a 300-400 man. Barry and Bobby Bonds are the only other players with at least 300 career homers and 400 steals.
Abreu has already given lots of thought to his post-baseball career. He owns a shoe company called Btop and a basketball team, Panteras de Miranda, in the Venezuelan Professional Basketball League. He earned roughly $125 million over 17 seasons, so money doesn't appear to be a concern.
"Bobby has had these different businesses that he started while he was playing," Greenberg said. "He's very interested in being a businessman full time once his baseball career is over. He can take this year to tend to those while he continues to work out and gear up for winter ball. He just wants an opportunity next year."
Fans might find the concept difficult to grasp, but some players walk away from the game simply because they lose the hunger and the enthusiasm to keep coming to the park every day. That appeared to be the case with Orioles minor leaguer Conor Jackson, who announced his retirement Sunday at age 30. "He loved being with the organization and all that, but he's at the stage of his life where it wasn't something he wanted to continue to do," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter told reporters.
Other players are determined to hang on as long as possible, regardless of their role or the size of their paycheck. During spring training, San Diego Padres outfielder Mark Kotsay told ESPN.com that he's intent on playing until somebody rips the jersey off his back.
"I still enjoy it," Kotsay said. "If you have a competitive nature, there's no other release for it. A golf game or a pickup basketball game doesn't do it."
That attitude might be more prevalent among players from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and other Latin countries than their counterparts from the U.S. Greenberg saw the phenomenon at work through the career path of another client, former Mets infielder Edgardo Alfonzo, who played in Mexico and Japan and made two forays to the Atlantic League, with the Long Island Ducks and Newark Bears, before wrapping up his professional career in 2010.
"These guys have a lot of pride," Greenberg said. "It's what they do. A lot of these Latin players have signed at age 16, and they reach this stage and they're like, 'What am I going to do after this?' Bobby is one of the few who has a vision of what he wants to do after baseball."
Maybe Abreu will get a second wind in winter ball, catch somebody's eye and resurface at a camp next spring. Or, just as likely, he'll fail to find a spot and quietly drift into retirement. He wouldn't be the first.
"Every offseason, you see a bunch of good players just vanish," one agent said, "and three years later you ask yourself, 'Whatever happened to so-and so?' Unless you're Mariano Rivera, they're not throwing you a going-away party."
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