When looking back at the White Sox’s extremely intriguing 2017 season, it’s hard not to immediately mention Jose Abreu.
Abreu is coming off his fourth season in the majors after being signed in October of 2013 to a six-year, $68 million deal and has had his best season since his rookie year in 2014.
But with Abreu approaching his age-31 season as a right-handed first baseman, questions loom as to whether or not Abreu has much of a future left on the South Side. Abreu currently has two years left on his six-year contract before he will become a free agent and the White Sox window of true contention doesn’t look to be opening up until around 2019 — Abreu’s age 33 season.
“They’re both special cases,” GM Rick Hahn said of Abreu and Avisail Garcia, who is also coming off of a stellar campaign. “And there are very strong arguments for them playing roles in 2020 and beyond. Abreu, obviously you can’t say enough about the season he had on the field, but [also] his importance in the role he plays in our clubhouse.”
As of September 29th, Abreu is hitting .306/.356/.556 with 33 home runs, the most since his rookie season. He has hit over 100 RBIs this season, marking the third season in which he has hit 30+ home runs and 100+ RBIs.
This year, Abreu also became just the sixth White Sox player to hit for the cycle on September 9th, earning him a gift from White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf — a commemorative ring to help celebrate his achievement.
“I would like to stay here forever,” Abreu said through the White Sox interpreter. “I would like to play with this team my whole career. But it is a business and we have to accept and respect what’s in the future. I would like to stay here forever.”
Abreu’s role in the clubhouse has become a pertinent piece in the discussion regarding his future. Abreu has taken on the role of a veteran leader in this clubhouse. He’s also been a friend and mentor to a precious piece of the White Sox’s future — Yoan Moncada. Moncada and Abreu grew up playing together in Cuba and have kept up a strong bond over the years. Having both Abreu serving as a mentor to both Moncada and the rest of the team’s budding youth could be considered a priceless asset.
“Most of the improvement or change since he first got here,” Hahn said, “It’s been with his comfort level in that clubhouse and the role of leader he has assumed, that he has always wanted to. We talked about that as far back as his rookie season—that that’s how he viewed himself and that’s what he wanted to be for this organization. But I think you’ve seen more public examples than you were able to see in the past of him playing that role for this club.”
Thankfully for the White Sox and Abreu, there’s no rush to make any decisions just yet. “Frankly, those decisions don’t have to be made this offseason,” Hahn said of entertaining the idea of moving the first baseman. “[He’s] controllable through 2019. We have the luxury, if we want, to play it out another year [or] play it out another half-a-year to see if the performance continues, see if the trade market changes.”
Hahn cited another important move that White Sox made this season that could have been made earlier, but the timing wasn’t right.
“As was the case when we sat here with [Jose] Quintana a year ago,” Hahn said, “yes, he was potentially a trade candidate, but the market didn’t respond the way we had anticipated, so we had to wait. There isn’t a firm answer right now. We don’t know what the options are. One of them conceivably is extending, and we have to wait and see what that cost entails.”
But Hahn realizes that luxury isn’t always afforded for long. “Sometimes a player needs to see what their free agent value is,” Hahn said. “And they perhaps have a different view of what their value is than what the market tells them it is. You’ve certainly seen a lot of players who have had to go out into the market, get whatever information they needed, and then return back to our club.”
Whether Abreu has a long term future in a Sox uniform remains to be seen right now. But the important part is that he’s continuing to make strides that indicate he’s still healthy and strong as ever, and has made a lasting impression on the White Sox’s young clubhouse. That impression cannot be erased, so even should the future find Abreu’s locker empty, his legacy will linger throughout the clubhouse as this team climbs to it’s bright, promising future.