White Sox

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.