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Deep Dive: First Base Edition, Part 3

Jose Abreu’s past, present and future with the White Sox

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians
Steady as He Goes: Jose Abreu has been the best and most consistent player for the White Sox over the past five years.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

  1. Depth in the lower levels (Dominican through Kannapolis)
  2. Depth in the higher levels (Winston-Salem through Charlotte)
  3. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  4. Free-agent options at that position, plus sneak peeks into available players in the upcoming 2019 MLB Draft.

This article delves into the career of Jose Abreu through 2018, his contractual situation with the White Sox, and what his future looks like in the Sox organization.

Jose Abreu — how did he get here?

Born in Cienfuegos, Cuba (about 150 miles southeast of Havana), Abreu was a top-notch slugger in the Cuban professional league from 2010-13, where he batted .392 with 133 homers, 337 RBIs, 311 runs and 278 walks (including postseason appearances).

In Abreu’s final season before making his perilous defection, he batted .316 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs over 83 games, while posting a .479 on-base percentage and a .604 slugging percentage. Several teams were also trying to win Abreu’s services in a bidding war, including the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros. Ultimately, the White Sox signed him for a six-year, $68 million deal on October 29, 2013. Abreu opted out of the last three years of his contract on November 16, 2016, thereby becoming arbitration-eligible for the years from 2017-19.

Abreu had a terrific first four years with the White Sox, combining consistency and power in his 6´3´´, 255-pound frame. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2014 after hitting .317/.383/.581, with 36 homers, 107 RBIs, 35 doubles and 51 walks. In fact, Abreu joined Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio as the only major leaguers to hit 25 homers, 100 RBIs, and hit .290 or better in each of his first four seasons. During this time, Abreu quickly established himself among the top-tier first basement in the majors.

With the White Sox in 2018

Abreu had his worst season to date in 2018, despite earning his first starting role in the All-Star Game. For the year, he hit .265/.325/.473, with 22 homers, 78 RBIs, 37 walks and 109 strikeouts over 499 at-bats — not bad numbers, but just not the production Sox fans have been accustomed to. The season started innocently enough, as Abreu hit .299/.356/.518, with 19 doubles and eight homers in April and May; for a while, the slugger was actually leading the league in doubles. Then, June and July hit, and Abreu struggled through the worst slump of his career, hitting just .221/.286/.392, with 11 doubles and four homers.

Just as Abreu was bouncing back with a terrific August (.338/.380/.676, with six doubles, six homers and 19 RBIs), he hit to the DL for the first time since 2014 as a result of testicular torsion surgery on August 22. He struggled badly in a short stretch after returning from the DL on September 10 (3-for-24), and ultimately was sidelined on September 16 due to a thigh infection.

Abreu’s average WAR for 2018 was 1.6 (1.7 bWAR, 1.2 fWAR, 2.0 WARP), well below his average career WAR of 3.5. Considering his salary was at $13 million for the year, and that each point in WAR is worth approximately $7.7 million (according to FanGraphs), Abreu underplayed his contract by $800,000. It was certainly a rough year on the injury front, with an elongated slump that it took him an unusually long time to snap out of. What will this mean for Abreu going forward?

Abreu’s future with the White Sox estimates Abreu will be paid $16 million for 2019, provided that the White Sox tender him an offer. Considering how much Abreu means to the team with respect to leadership, attitude, and performance, a contract offer is a given.

In order to outperform a $16 million contract, he’d have to produce a 2.1 WAR or greater, which he has been able to do every year except 2018. Of course, Abreu could be dealt prior to the season, but corner infielders haven’t created much stir in the transaction department in the past couple years. The only teams likely to make a serious attempt at Abreu would be the Colorado Rockies and perhaps the New York Yankees. If Abreu were to be dealt, the Sox would likely replace him with some combination of Daniel Palka, Matt Davidson, Nicky Delmonico, and/or Jose Rondon.

The White Sox have three possibilities with Abreu once the season commences. First, the Sox could consider extending his contract — perhaps for another three or four seasons. Secondly, the Sox could just simply let him play out his contract; he could re-sign with the Chicago after the season or sign elsewhere, with the White Sox receiving a compensation pick in the 2020 draft (the only way I see this happening if the Sox are surprisingly in contention by the deadline and would thus be hesitant to trade him). The third option would be trade him at maximum value (provided of course he’s doing well at the time) at the trade deadline to a team desperate for an experienced slugger.

First base has been a solid position for the White Sox since 1990, primarily manned by just three players during that time: Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko and Abreu. White Sox fans have been spoiled with the consistency and production those players have bestowed over the past three decades.

The Sox should have plenty of money to spend this offseason, and that includes the possibility of extending Abreu if they so wish. He’ll be 32 when the new season begins, but he’s been able to stay healthy throughout his career (two freak injuries this year aside). If the White Sox plan on contending with the youth in their system, it would be well-advised, if the money’s right, to have the production and leadership that a veteran like Abreu can provide.