White Sox

How does Jose Abreu figure into the White Sox long-term plans?

How does Jose Abreu figure into the White Sox long-term plans?

He’s the center of it all for now, but how does Jose Abreu fit into the White Sox long-term plans?

The veteran first baseman blasted two more home runs on Tuesday night as he continued his best season since his rookie year. Abreu launched home runs Nos. 32 and 33 for the White Sox, who fell to the Los Angeles Angels 9-3 at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Not only has Abreu provided outstanding all-around play, he’s taken on additional leadership responsibilities and serves as a role model for many of his young teammates. But whether his age — he turns 31 in January — will affect Abreu’s chances at sticking around through the entirety of the White Sox rebuild remains to be seen.

One year after Abreu had the White Sox front office wondering about his identity — was he the player who slumped for the first four months of 2016 or the guy who had a .969 OPS in August and September? — he’s seemingly answered all those questions.

Short of a slow start in April, Abreu has been an absolute force in the middle of the lineup. His bat has produced hard-hit contact similar to 2014 when he was the unanimous AL rookie of the year. Abreu’s 90.6 mph average exit velocity is 16th in the majors (minimum 190 batted-ball events), according to Baseball Savant.

His 109.4-mph blast to left field in the first inning off Angels starter Parker Bridwell gave the White Sox an early 1-0 lead. He launched a second home run in the sixth inning with an exit velo of 106.3 mph to dead center, giving him 33 homers and 102 RBIs.

Overall, Abreu is hitting .307/.358/.561 with a career-high 81 extra-base hits in 656 plate appearances. Abreu’s defense has also improved vastly to the point where manager Rick Renteria has again described him as an “excellent” defender (metrics peg him at close to average) on Tuesday. Abreu entered Tuesday valued at 3.9 f-Wins Above Replacement.

The production is exactly what the White Sox expected when they originally signed Abreu to a six-year deal worth $68 million after the 2013 season ended.

But his value isn’t just limited to the field. He’s been a mentor to second baseman Yoan Moncada and outfielder Avisail Garcia, among others. Abreu also has been more vocal with all of his teammates as his own grasp of English has improved.

And his work ethic is second to none, physical trainer Allen Thomas identifying Abreu as the team’s most dedicated in the gym. That dedication has helped Abreu shed nearly 20 pounds since he first joined the White Sox and ultimately played a key role when he recently tripled in his final at-bat to complete the cycle in a win over the San Francisco Giants.

Abreu has repeatedly stated he enjoys his role as mentor/leader and is very encouraged in the team’s direction because of the talent that has begun to emerge. Though he understands the business side of baseball could interfere, Abreu has also expressed a desire to stay and win with the White Sox.

The White Sox likely see their window to compete opening in 2019 or 2020, at which point Abreu would be 32 years old. Athletes generally tend to start their decline around that age, which could prevent the White Sox from trying to extend Abreu and instead encourage them to shop him around this offseason or even at the trade deadline next season. Even though he has two seasons of arbitration eligibility left, Abreu, who earned $10.825 million in 2017, should have a stronger market this winter than he did last year, when interest was minimal.

Still, Abreu’s dedication to fitness could help him extend the length of his career and help him provide value well into his mid-30s.

The White Sox will have to weigh all of those factors as they figure out how to proceed with Abreu, one of the biggest questions of the team’s rebuild.

Three ways the White Sox could make a splash at this week's Winter Meetings

Three ways the White Sox could make a splash at this week's Winter Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Expecting the rebuilding White Sox to be quiet at this week's Winter Meetings?

You might want to rethink that.

The biggest week of the baseball offseason has historically been a time where any transaction can happen, whether expected or surprising. Last year, the White Sox pulled off a couple of huge December trades that helped jumpstart the rebuild and reshape the future of the franchise. Chris Sale went to Boston in return for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and others. Adam Eaton went to Washington in exchange for a package that featured Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, two guys already in the White Sox starting rotation.

So what will this year bring? There are some big possibilities. Of course, these are all just potential happenings for this week in Florida. Surely there will be other conversation topics, as well, with Rick Hahn likely to be asked about the continued progression of a bunch of the White Sox core pieces. But if there is a splash to be made, these ones make the most sense.

1. White Sox trade Jose Abreu

Really, the biggest question of the White Sox offseason is what happens with Abreu. There might have been an indication of an answer last week, when The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that the team is unlikely to trade Abreu this winter, but then came another report over the weekend that teams like the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals are interested in acquiring Abreu. So perhaps there's still a possibility Abreu gets moved at the Winter Meetings.

The arguments for dealing Abreu away seem to be just as good as the ones for keeping him. It kind of means that there's no wrong answer for Hahn.

Abreu has been a model of consistency in his four seasons as a big leaguer and has produced at a great level. Last season, he became just the third player ever to hit 25 homers and drive in 100 runs in each of his first four major league seasons, joining Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols. Good company. He finished 2017 with a .304/.354/.552 slash line, 33 homers, 102 RBIs and a career-high 189 hits and 43 doubles. He struck out a career-low 119 times. So in other words, he's really good.

It's because of that and his contract situation that Abreu seems to be an attractive trade candidate and could land the type of package that Hahn acquired in those trades involving Sale and Eaton last winter. Abreu will turn 31 next month, but he's got just two years of team control left, meaning there's no long-term contract that teams would be acquiring along with a player currently in his prime but one who will be in his mid 30s when the 2020 season begins. It makes a ton of sense for a contender, sticking a bat like Abreu's in the middle of the batting order and not having to worry about an investment going south beyond 2019. Of course, it could also cost an awful lot in prospects, which could scare teams away from a deal.

But there are plenty of reasons for the White Sox to keep Abreu around, too. The aforementioned offensive production is valuable to a team that hopes to be contending soon. And off the field, Abreu earns rave reviews as a team leader and a mentor to some of the organization's young stars of the future, including fellow Cubans Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert. But if the White Sox opt to keep Abreu, they'll have to make a decision on whether to extend his contract or not. Common thinking is that the White Sox will be ready to compete come 2020, when many of their top prospects will be ready for the major leagues. With Abreu set to become a free agent after the 2019 season, keeping him for the long haul will mean another decision for the White Sox.

And so for this week, perhaps a decision on Abreu will come. Rosenthal’s report suggested that teams like the Red Sox were perhaps turned off by the White Sox asking price. There are also several intriguing free-agent options for teams looking for a big bat at first base. But Abreu might also interest teams that missed out on the offseason’s top two targets, Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton, potentially rekindling the possibility of an Abreu deal.

Also, should the White Sox keep Abreu this winter, it does not precludes them from dealing him at the 2018 trade deadline, next offseason or at the trade deadline in 2019 — and all the above arguments for and against dealing him will still apply at those times, too.

Hahn has shown he’s not afraid to deal away his team’s best player for the right return package. Abreu’s situation gives his general manager another advantage, too: options. So it will be interesting to see what Hahn has to say down in Florida.

2. White Sox trade Avisail Garcia

Much like Abreu, Garcia, the team's other best offensive player in 2017, has been speculated about as a potential trade candidate. Garcia is significantly younger than Abreu — he'll turn 27 next summer — and it's taken him a while to reach big league success: He made his major league debut way back in 2012.

But Garcia finally had a big season last year, slashing .330/.380/.506 with 18 homers and 80 RBIs. He made his first career All-Star appearance. He was second in the American League in batting average and sixth in on-base percentage. It's that breakthrough that has placed his name into trade speculation for the rebuilding White Sox, the idea being that the team could sell high and acquire minor league talent that would extend their contention window even further into the future.

Like Abreu, Garcia is under team control for two more seasons. Like Abreu, he had a great 2017 season. Unlike Abreu, he's still a young player. Unlike Abreu, he doesn't have a track record of consistency. All that thrown together could mean that a return package for Garcia wouldn't be as impactful as one for Abreu, and that could impact the likelihood of a deal.

But like the decision the White Sox need to make with Abreu, there's a decision that needs to be made with Garcia: Is he a part of the team's long-term future or not? If he is, then holding onto him — and extending his contract into that period of projected contention — makes a lot of sense. If not, the White Sox would certainly like to get something for a guy they don't envision having past 2019. And that's where a trade would come in. Does that mean this week? It remains to be seen.

3. White Sox make some more surprise signings

Hahn surprised at the beginning of the month by signing Welington Castillo to a two-year deal with a club option for a third. It's not that Castillo is an earth-shattering free-agent acquisition, but it's an interesting one considering where the White Sox are in their rebuild.

Castillo is a veteran backstop coming off a career year offensively and defensively. And while there's little doubt Castillo is an upgrade over the quietly productive catching tandem of Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith, the move still came as a bit of a shock considering it looks like more of a win-now type addition.

Castillo has plenty of value to the White Sox over the next few seasons as a veteran who can help bring along a young-and-getting-younger starting staff, a productive hitter at the catching position, a bridge to the supposed catcher of the future, Zack Collins, and a potential trade chip to add another piece down the road. But Castillo, who just completed his age-30 season, could certainly be of value when the White Sox contention window opens, too, even as the potential starting catcher.

So, signing Castillo brings up the question of when that window opens. Moncada, Giolito and Lopez are already on the big league roster, and guys like Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning might not be too far behind. If the White Sox see the rapid progression of its stockpile of minor league talent and thinks that maybe this rebuild will reach its apex sooner than expected, could more signings like Castillo's be in the future? The near future? This week?

With Giancarlo Stanton's big bat off the market, could White Sox see uptick in Jose Abreu interest?

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USA TODAY

With Giancarlo Stanton's big bat off the market, could White Sox see uptick in Jose Abreu interest?

Giancarlo Stanton is off the board. Shohei Ohtani is off the board. So where will teams looking to make a big offseason splash turn next?

Stanton's reported trade to the New York Yankees and Ohtani's decision to sign with the Los Angeles Angels seem to have officially cleared the path for offseason activity to pick up, just in time for the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in Florida.

And while a recent report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal said that the White Sox are unlikely to trade Jose Abreu this offseason, you have to wonder if certain teams that missed out on Stanton and Ohtani might give Rick Hahn a call to inquire about the first baseman and his middle-of-the-order bat.

While all these teams aren't necessarily — or even remotely — a fit for Abreu, the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals both had trades rejected by Stanton, and the Cubs, Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners all made Ohtani's list of finalists but didn't land the Japanese import. That's a lot of teams that just got a no from one or both of baseball's biggest offseason targets — not to mention the teams that couldn't get into the running in the first place.

Now, there are a lot of bats on the free-agent market, and several of the biggest ones are first basemen, no doubt affecting the market for and the likelihood of an Abreu trade. Still out there for the taking are J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Santana, among others. All those guys cost is money, as opposed to one or multiple top prospects.

But Abreu's numbers over the past four seasons should at least attract the attention of a large number of teams. He's one of just three players ever (along with Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols, which is good company to be in) to hit 25 home runs and rack up 100 RBIs in each of his first four major league seasons. Last year, he hit 33 homers, drove in 102 runs, had a career-high 43 doubles, struck out a career-low 119 times and slashed .304/.354/.552. And Abreu is under team control for only two more seasons, meaning that any team that would trade for him wouldn't be taking on a significant amount of long-term risk in having to pay an exorbitant amount for a player moving out of his prime years.

Now, as mentioned, Rosenthal reported just a few days ago that the White Sox are likely to hang on to Abreu this offseason, citing both that aforementioned free-agent market for first basemen and a potentially high asking price. The Boston Red Sox have reportedly been interested, but the White Sox have been reportedly asking for an awful lot in return, with Hahn perhaps looking to acquire a package similar to the ones he got in deals that shipped Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana away from the South Side.

But now there are teams looking to bring in an impact bat that were hoping for Stanton or Ohtani. Without them, does desperation kick in? Does the price seem a little less unreasonable? The Red Sox are especially worth noting, as they just saw their division rivals add a guy who hit 59 home runs last season and team him with another guy who hit 52 home runs last season to create the most formidable middle of the order in baseball. That could provide some extra motivation to make a move for Abreu.

Remember, too, that should Abreu start the 2018 season with the White Sox, it doesn't mean he'll end it with the White Sox — barring a still-to-come announcement of a contract extension, of course. So all these teams that missed out on Stanton and Ohtani could possibly still be looking to add a big bat a few months down the road.

The trade of Stanton has huge implications on every team in baseball, it would seem, with the very least of those being that regular offseason business can officially get started. For the White Sox, the effects could be significantly bigger than that.