What if Jose Abreu had chosen the Red Sox over the White Sox?

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BOSTON — Jose Abreu has enjoyed his first look at Fenway Park, the historic venue that very nearly was his home.

While the first-time All-Star said Tuesday he left the free agency process that brought him to the White Sox to his agent, Barry Praver, multiple sources said the Boston Red Sox were a very serious player for the first baseman’s services.

Ultimately, Abreu signed a six-year, $68-million deal with the White Sox, who have begun to emerge from the depths of a 99-loss season in part because of how the slugger has brought vitality to an offense that failed to score 600 runs in 2013.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told the Boston Herald on Monday he knew of the Red Sox interest in Abreu, an attraction that was in part kept out of the spotlight because of Boston’s postseason run.

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Given how Abreu has energized the franchise, Hahn doesn’t know how the White Sox offseason would have gone had the Cuban free agent wound up in Boston, which reportedly offered only $5 million less.

“It’s tough to know exactly what would have followed had we not been able to convert on that deal,” Hahn said on Tuesday. “But it certainly addressed a very important hole for us and plugged a need for the next several years and allowed us to sort of move on to some other (moves). Whether we would have been able to plug that hole through other moves, hard to say. But certainly its pretty safe to say it wouldn’t have been as strongly as we were able to by getting the deal done.”

An All-Star in his first season, Abreu’s arrival was significant for several reasons. First and foremost, the White Sox added a middle-of-the-order bat at the start of his physical prime, a player Paul Konerko has described as a rookie without being a rookie.

Given this is Abreu’s first go-round through the league, the White Sox feel as if they’ve tapped into a gold mine.

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Even though he’s seeing many pitchers for the first time and acclimating to life in a new culture and a new league, Abreu has already clubbed 27 home runs. He also has become a leader by example in the clubhouse and the team believes there’s more growth potential as Abreu learns English.

Then there’s the other aspect — Abreu came at only the cost of money.

The White Sox didn’t have to surrender any draft picks to sign Abreu because no team held his rights, nor did they have to use any of their own players to acquire him in a trade. That proved valuable in December when the White Sox traded Addison Reed for third-base prospect Matt Davidson and Hector Santiago for leadoff man Adam Eaton.

Hahn likes to joke that his selling point to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf on the Abreu deal was ‘Its just money.’ ”

“But there’s some truth to that,” Hahn said. “Obviously it was very real money and would put a significant dent into our payroll, especially if it hadn’t gone right. But ultimately it didn’t cost us any other assets. That was a big part of the reason we were willing to take that risk, because it was just cash.”

In need of revitalizing an aging offensive core, the White Sox liked Abreu so much they gave him an international-record deal at the time. Some early estimates suggested Abreu would fetch in the $40 million range. But Praver said in November five teams crested $60 million in pursuit of Abreu.

Boston was one of the closest, Hahn told the Herald.

“I certainly felt there were numerous teams, any of whom could jump up and jump over us or push us to a higher level,” Hahn told the Herald. “After the fact, we got a better sense of who was there and where they were going, and it turns out there were several teams, not just us and Boston, that were awfully aggressive and pretty close to where we were at the end.”

[MORE: Hahn keeping trade deadline plans close to vest]

Asked how close the Red Sox were to signing him, Abreu said through Lino Diaz, the team’s manager of cultural development, that he didn’t want to know. But he would agree that he is impressed with Fenway and it’s storied past.

“I am aware of the history and to be honest with you it is an honor to play here,” Abreu said. “And given the age and everything, it’s a place that has a great environment to play in. It’s an honor to play here for the first time.”

Hahn doesn’t want to think about any what ifs.

He and the White Sox are ecstatic to have Abreu on board. That, and he has already seen a preview of what 2014 might have looked like with Abreu and wasn’t happy with the image.

“I didn’t like how it looked those two weeks he was on the (disabled list),” Hahn said. “So hopefully had we not signed him we would have found another way to try to plug that hole and it would have looked a little different than it (has). But obviously he’s a huge cog in that lineup and hopefully will be for the next five-plus seasons.”

MLB to crack down on sign stealing

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We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.

As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.

Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.

As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.

While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.

Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.