White Sox

Cabrera, White Sox not hitting panic button on season-long slump

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Cabrera, White Sox not hitting panic button on season-long slump

ARLINGTON, Texas — The White Sox aren’t panicking as the guy they signed to a three-year, $42 million deal in the offseason continues to work through his early-season offensive malaise.

Entering Wednesday night’s game in Texas, outfielder Melky Cabrera has a .546 OPS, nearly 200 points below his career average and good for third-worst among qualified players this season. He’s hitting just .236 and hasn’t produced much power, only collecting five extra-base hits (four doubles, one home run) in 219 plate appearances.

Cabrera, though, is avoiding a knee-jerk reaction to his slow start and said he’s not trying anything different to reverse his fortune.

“I don’t change anything in my game,” Cabrera said through a translator. “I just try to keep my focus, try to keep my approach at the plate. Baseball is a hard sport. … You have to try to have confidence in your game and confidence in your work. That’s the only way that you can, sooner rather than later, get out of the slump.”

Cabrera’s poor production can still be partly chalked up to a small sample size, though a handful of other stats have passed that point of early-season dismissal. The good news is that those numbers that have stabilized aren’t far off from what Cabrera had in 2014, when he hit .301/.351/.458 for Toronto.

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Cabrera is swinging at slightly more pitches and is making slightly more contact, while his walk rate and his line drive rate have dropped a bit — but none of those percentages have swung by more than two percent. The biggest difference is, according to FanGraphs, he’s making hard contact on about 10 percent fewer balls in play (30.5 percent in 2014, 19.8 percent in 2015) and his batting average on balls in play is down from .316 to .254.

So it’s been some nefarious combination of bad luck and being slightly off at the plate that’s been the impetus behind Cabrera’s lack of success at the plate. But regardless of why it's happened, he hasn’t provided the two-hole salvation the White Sox thought they were getting when they stretched their budget this winter — with Cabrera mostly hitting second, White Sox No. 2 hitters have a .541 OPS through 50 games, 93 points below 2014’s mark.

“He’s had some days where he’s hit it hard and not gotten anything out of it,” manager Robin Ventura said. “That still messes with your mind somewhat. You always want to get something out of it. (As) a veteran guy, he still has confidence in what he’s doing and we do too in where he’s going to end up.”

It’s a viewpoint that shows neither Cabrera nor Ventura see the 30-year-old as having an on-base percentage well below .300 or being rated by WAR as the worst player on the team (-0.8) for much longer. Part of that thought is because Ventura hasn’t dropped Cabrera out his No. 2 perch in the order, outside of a few games in which he’s hit third or fourth.

[MORE: White Sox searching for answers after being throttled by Texas]

Cabrera said having a manager who believes in in him has helped him pull out of slumps in the past, and Ventura’s willingness to let him work through his offensive issues without moving him lower in the order has helped keep his confidence high this year.

“It’s key when the manager gives you the confidence to keep playing every day just because that makes you feel like you have all the confidence and you’re able to keep working and do what you have to do to get better,” Cabrera said. “… I feel very confident right now that things are going to change soon and we, as a team, are going to start playing much better.”

A return to form from Cabrera would certainly be a boost to the run-producing numbers of Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche and Avisail Garcia behind him if he’s able to get on base more and hit for a little more power. But Cabrera’s big picture approach to his offensive struggles means he’s not close to hitting the panic button with 112 games left to be played.

“It’s a long season,” Cabrera said. “You know there are going to be ups and downs and you just have to keep the consistency and your mind tough.”

Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s almost like Jose Abreu never left.

He was only a free agent for a week and a half, Abreu bringing his brief time away from the White Sox to an end Thursday, when he accepted the qualifying offer of a one-year deal with $17.8 million.

It’s not the multi-year contract that was expected, but MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported that the sides will continue to discuss a long-term pact. Still, the decision is a rare one, with Abreu becoming one of the few players ever to accept the qualifying offer. But he’ll get a nice payday for the 2020 season with a chance to do this whole free-agency thing again a year from now, if he chooses.

There was speculation that Abreu could accept the qualifying offer because of a potentially weak market for his services league-wide. If Abreu rejected the qualifying offer and things fell apart in discussing a multi-year deal with the White Sox, any team that signed him to a contract would have lost a draft pick in doing so. That deterred teams from signing free agents just in the last year, with Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel notably going unsigned until June.

Who knows if that — or just the desire to earn $17.8 million before a potential dip in his annual salary as he ages — had anything to do with Abreu’s decision, but it’s what was being speculated.

Regardless, the White Sox have their first baseman back, great news after he turned in one of the more productive seasons of his six-year big league career in 2019. Abreu led the American League with a career-best 123 RBIs and came three home runs shy of matching a career-high in that category, as well.

Abreu’s return always seemed a foregone conclusion, with the three-time All Star spending the entire 2019 season talking about how badly he wanted to remain on the South Side, going as far as to pledge that if the White Sox didn’t re-sign him, he’d sign himself to a contract and play here anyway.

The feeling was mutual, too, with general manager Rick Hahn, manager Rick Renteria and teammates praising Abreu as a model player and a mentor for the team’s young stars in the making. Eloy Jimenez said Abreu had been like a father during the rookie’s first season in the majors. Abreu revealed that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told him he’d never wear another uniform.

He’s as giddy about the team’s future as anyone and has cited the planned shift into contention as the reason he wants to stick around. Tim Anderson said “it’s only right” that Abreu return for 2020, a season in which the long-awaited transition out of rebuilding mode could take place. Hahn said earlier this season that it’s “very likely” Abreu would be around for the franchise’s planned good times.

Abreu’s been incredibly productive at the plate, though his off-the-field contributions are just as important, of course, and he’s been a mentor to players like Jimenez and Yoan Moncada as they’ve gotten their first taste of the major leagues. Luis Robert, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, figures to find his way under Abreu’s wing when he reaches the bigs next season.

Abreu has long seemed to be held in the same esteem as players who have their numbers retired and statues standing at Guaranteed Rate Field, earning the title of “Mr. White Sox” for this generation. It’s no surprise the White Sox are keeping him in that role moving forward as they plan to start seeing brighter days on the South Side.

After capturing the RBI crown, Abreu made his final prediction of the 2019 campaign, saying he did believe he'd be back with the White Sox for 2020. It might not have been terribly difficult to be prescient in this case, but he was nonetheless.

"Everybody knows my wishes and my desire to stay here," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "This is an organization I respect. This is an organization I really honor.

"I want to be here, and you know guys, I’ve been telling you that. Hopefully I’m going to be here."

Hope no longer. It might not have gone down exactly as was expected, but Abreu isn't going anywhere.

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Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Nothing seems to be off the table for the White Sox this winter.

But certain moves might be the centerpiece, while others might be hiding behind the salt shaker.

One of the biggest questions in baseball right now is what the Boston Red Sox are going to do with Mookie Betts. With the Red Sox aiming to get under the luxury tax — made more difficult when J.D. Martinez opted to stay in Boston for $23.75 million — speculation surrounding a trade of Betts and the $27.7 million he’s projected to receive through arbitration has increased.

Betts, too, it’s important to note, has just one year of club control remaining, and he seems set on heading to free agency at this time a year from now.

The White Sox hole in right field and quest to make a huge addition to their rebuilding project lines them up as a potentially interested party. While general manager Rick Hahn is waiting until his 2020 roster takes shape to set expectations for next season, the emergence of a young core presents the possibility that next season could be the one in which contention arrives on the South Side.

Adding Betts to the mix would certainly increase those chances.

Tuesday, Hahn seemed to leave the door open to acquiring a player like Betts, that is a player with just one year of club control remaining.

“Yeah, depending on the cost. It all comes down to price,” he said. “Like everybody, you want guys who are going to fit for the long term. We want to add a guy who's got a three-, four-, five-, six-year window of control where he's going to continue to improve and he's going to grow with this young core. Those guys aren't so easy to acquire. Usually you have to give a pretty premium piece like we did to get ours, or hit on them at the top of the draft like we've hopefully done.

“Short of that, we're going to look for guys who can certainly make you better in the short term but ideally have a little back-end control. If those don't exist, if we don't come across the right fit, then we'd be open to a one-year improvement knowing that with where we've put ourselves economically, we might have the ability to retain that player when they hit free agency.”

That sounds promising if you’re a member of the Betts-to-the-White Sox camp.

But there was a decidedly different tone Wednesday. Now, Hahn was never speaking about Betts specifically, nor was he ever asked about Betts specifically. But asked about dealing from a position of prospect strength for an impact talent who has just one year of club control left, the answer was significantly different than Tuesday’s.

“We made a commitment,” Hahn said, “that once we got ourselves in a position to be on the opposite end of these trades, the trades where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important to us to still try to remain committed to the long term.

“When there's a guy like Chris Sale available, who (in 2016, when the White Sox traded him) had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world. If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet, and if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time.

“Quick hits don't necessarily do that. And certainly after three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something for immediate bang in 2020, necessarily, if we feel it compromises us for the long term.

“We've paid too big of a price to compromise where we're going to be at long term.”

Now, with that question posed by a Boston-based reporter, Hahn might have been addressing a more specific scenario. More likely is that he was reacting to the idea that the White Sox top-rated prospects would make them able to swing a deal for the elite of the elite. Thing is, the highest rated of those prospects aren’t really on the block, with Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn all solidly part of the team’s long-term plans.

So, is a Betts trade off the table? No. Is a Betts trade likely? Probably not. Would the White Sox trade for Betts? Probably if they only had to give up mid-tier prospects. What would it take to pry Betts away from the Red Sox? Probably more than mid-tier prospects.

Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of Hahn’s comments on Tuesday and Wednesday, he didn’t really flip-flop. A trade for one year of Betts isn’t out of the question, it's likely only going to come if the White Sox don’t have to give up too much. Maybe the Red Sox financial situation is dire enough that the prospect cost will be unusually low. Maybe the White Sox are presented with a rare opportunity to negotiate an extension.

But “depending on the cost” remains the key phrase not just in this situation but the entire White Sox offseason. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend or trade anyone. It simply means that they will only do so if there’s a long-term benefit. They’re trying to build a perennial contender, and the lengthy tenures of Robert and Madrigal and Vaughn are more valuable than one year of Betts.

In search of that long-term benefit, then, the free-agent market or a trade for a player with greater club control certainly seems a more likely route than a trade for Betts.

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