White Sox fans might have their eyes on the future, but the 2018 season has plenty of intrigue all its own. As Opening Day nears, let's take a look at the 18 most pressing questions for the 2018 edition of the South Side baseball team.
Jose Abreu doesn't appear to be going anywhere.
The White Sox star first baseman entered the offseason as the subject of trade speculation. After four remarkably productive and consistent seasons at the big league level, the South Siders seemed capable of fetching a package of prospects that would have helped further stock their rebuilding effort. The question, of course, was whether that package would have looked like the ones Rick Hahn's front office received in return for Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana. Maybe not, considering Abreu's age and the fact that he's only under team control for two more seasons.
But as the offseason progressed, it became clear that the White Sox had no intention of trading Abreu, and Hahn even said that the White Sox perhaps value Abreu more than other teams considering what he means to their clubhouse. It all ended with trade speculation transforming into apparent certainty that Abreu would be around not only for 2018, not only through the end of his contract in 2019, but past that, as well, as a veteran member of what's planned to be a White Sox team that's contending on an annual basis.
In order to do that, Abreu's contract will need to be extended, or he'll require a new one after the 2019 season. Will that happen this season? Will Abreu be cemented as a White Sox mainstay the way guys like Paul Konerko and Mark Buehrle were in the past? That's for the team and the player to hash out.
Until they do, fans can watch and see exactly why Abreu, despite his advancing age, is deserving of consideration for a spot on these teams of the future. He'll be much, much older than the likes of Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Luis Robert and the other stars of the rebuild. But he's become such a force in the clubhouse, a mentor to Moncada and another fellow Cuban, Robert. His work ethic is routinely praised by manager Rick Renteria, who routinely points to Abreu's correction of his fielding issues at the beginning of last season. Abreu's role-model status makes him incredibly valuable to a team that's young and getting younger.
And then, obviously, there's what Abreu does on the field. He's put up four straight seasons of at least 25 homers and 100 RBIs, the third player ever to do that (along with Joe Dimaggio and Albert Pujols), and he hit at least 30 homers in three of those seasons. The consistency has been astounding, and he put up some career-best numbers in his age-30 season last year, setting new career highs with 189 hits, 43 doubles and six triples, plus a career-low 119 strikeouts.
While extending Abreu for multiple years past his age-32 season carries the expected risk as a player ages, his production and his off-field value inside the White Sox clubhouse make him a strong extension candidate. That being said, the White Sox also have some flexibility, with the option to move him over the next two seasons if they get the opportunity to add to their incredible collection of young talent.
Flexibility seems to be the name of the game for the White Sox as they wait for their young players to develop in the minor leagues. Consistency has been the name of the game for Abreu. If that stays true in 2018, perhaps he gets that contract extension.