White Sox

CSN Exclusive: Dunn wants Comeback Player of the Year

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CSN Exclusive: Dunn wants Comeback Player of the Year

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Towards the end of last season as Adam Dunn was closing out one of the worst hitting seasons in baseball history, he spotted White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson in the parking lot at U.S. Cellular Field.

Since Harrelson was on the microphone for most of his 177 strikeouts in 2011, Dunn probably felt bad for Hawk, a die-hard White Sox fan who could only sit, watch, and helplessly broadcast Dunns struggles live on the air game-after-game.

Dunn made Harrelson a promise.

I told him, Do you have to be hurt to win Comeback Player of the Year because if you dont its mine. Ive already claimed it, Dunn said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. I dont know if you get a trophy or what. Its not an award that I want to win but I havent won it, so I might as well win it.

The White Sox didnt win enough games last season, only 79 of them. Dunns well-publicized struggles had a lot to do with it. After batting just .159, its now Dunns mission to win back, not just his credibility, but an entire White Sox fan base that watched in agony and anger as he failed at such a clip it nearly put him in the record books.

What would it mean for Dunn to have the comeback year hes been thinking about since the final out of last season?

It would be huge. My goal is, I want to win Comeback Player of the Year, among other awards, Dunn said. Im not done. Im 32 years old. I keep hearing about this stuff and its borderline comical. How can you go from A to B and now youre done. It makes no sense.

No one knows what it was like to walk in Dunns shoes last year. Only Adam does. If you booed him, its very likely he heard it. The jeers became the soundtrack of his season. Reflecting back on what occurred, both on and off the field, one might assume that the experience made Dunn a stronger person. Adam disagrees.

You know, no. I feel like Im a strong person to begin with, he said.

But did he learn something? Plenty.

I learned a lot in the last year, and a lot about people, not just yourself. Who really cares about you and really cares about what you do. Theres a difference between that. As bad as it sounds, I think that it was meant to happen. I think you kind of weed out people that are around you and love you for the wrong reason.

One of Dunns closest friends is pitcher Jake Peavy, whose locker is right next to Adams both here at the White Sox spring training facility and at U.S. Cellular Field. Peavy had his own share of problems last season trying to stay healthy. However, that was nothing compared to what Adam and his family faced, bearing the brunt of a season that never turned around.

To watch his family kind of go through it with him I think was awfully tough, Peavy said. I think a lot of people dont think about that. Our families are sitting up there right with the fans, and we understand theres going to be heckling and talking, but when youre in your own home ballpark and youre trying as absolutely hard as you can, and you cant get out of a funk, its tough to have to sit up there and your kids have to listen to people yell about their dad. It was painful. Theres no doubt.

Dunn says that Peavy helped him get through his inner battles, a fight that continued as Adam remained his outward happy-go-lucky self. Whatever problems he was having, Dunn did his best to keep them at the ballpark.

I tried not to take it home, he said. My wife didnt deserve it, my kids didnt deserve it. It was hard for them to watch just like it was hard for me to do it. I made the conscious effort. If I had to stay at the ballpark two hours afterwards just to make sure that Im okay and not bring it home, then I would do that. Thats kind of how I dealt with it, to remember its baseball, its your job, its a game, your family has nothing to do with it.

Dunn enters the 2012 season with many skeptics who dont believe he can succeed at a high level in front of the bright lights of a big city. I brought up the perception that exists that he cant DH, that he cant excel in the American League, and that he cant play for a contender.

His reaction?

Okay. I mean, okay, apparently I cant. Ive only had one year and it wasnt very good, but Ive been told I cant do a lot of things and Im here.

Did the pressure to win and live up to the 4-year, 56 million contract he signed affect him?

I felt like there was a lot of pressure on a lot of people last year, and obviously didnt handle it well. I dont know why that is, myself included, Dunn said. I dont mind pressure. I put more pressure on myself than anybody can possibly put on one person, and Ive done okay with it.

Dunn describes his current state of mind as carefree. He added, Im in a great place right now, especially starting now not having to talk about last year.

So besides his prediction for winning Comeback Player of the Year, what else does Dunn expect for the upcoming season?

I expect to do what Ive done my whole life. Im not expecting to do anything more, anything less. Im expecting to go out and play 162 games at least. The numbers will be what they are in the end.

It's now a new beginning and he closed the interview with this:

I want people to expect great things, because I expect great things.

The season awaits.

White Sox free-agent focus: Marwin Gonzalez

White Sox free-agent focus: Marwin Gonzalez

This week, we’re profiling some of the biggest names on the free-agent market and taking a look at what kind of fits they are for the White Sox.

The best way to plan for a future full of unknowns is to cover all your bases — and all the spots in your outfield, too.

Marwin Gonzalez is going to be a very popular man on the free-agent market this offseason because he is one of the most demonstrably versatile players in the game. He’s been a do-it-all savior for the Houston Astros in recent seasons, part of their rise from baseball’s cellar to a world championship in 2017 and their current status as one of the best teams out there.

During the 2018 season alone, Gonzalez appeared at every position except pitcher and catcher, playing 73 games in left field, 39 at shortstop, 32 at second base, 24 at first base, three at third base, two in center field, one at designated hitter and one in right field. That versatility is practically unmatched throughout the game, and it’s likely to get the soon-to-be-30-year-old Gonzalez a nice contract this winter.

For a rebuilding team like the White Sox, he’d be a perfect fit, chiefly because there’s still so much to play out in this rebuilding process and it’s difficult to figure out where the future holes will be. In Gonzalez, the White Sox could add someone now who could fill any number of those potential weak spots, be they caused by failed development or injuries down the road.

But what about his offense? If there is a reason to stay away from Gonzalez, it’s the significant dropoff in his offensive numbers last season. In 2017, the season he helped the Astros win their first-ever World Series title, he slashed .303/.377/.530 with 23 home runs and 90 RBIs, finishing in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. In 2018, he slashed .247/.324/.409 with 16 home runs and 68 RBIs — and that’s with more playing time, his games played jumping from 134 to 145 and his plate appearances jumping from 515 to 552.

Is that enough to scare teams away? That remains to be seen.

Would Gonzalez be a good fit for the White Sox? It sure seems that way, though there are perhaps 29 other teams that could say the same thing.

Jose Abreu is an All-Star starter and Silver Slugger, but will he be with the White Sox past 2019?

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu is an All-Star starter and Silver Slugger, but will he be with the White Sox past 2019?

It was Jose Abreu's worst season in the major leagues. And he still started the All-Star Game and won a Silver Slugger.

The White Sox have a decision to make at some point, though not necessarily this offseason, on what to do with Abreu in the long term. His on-field production isn't a question. His role as an off-field mentor isn't a question. But when Opening Day 2020 rolls around, he'll be 33 years old. Does that "align" — to borrow a word used very often by Rick Hahn at last week's GM Meetings — with the White Sox long-term plans?

Abreu's entering the final season of his current contract coming off a year defined as much by freak injuries and a prolonged slump as by the accolades he received in spite of those things. For the first time as a big leaguer, he finished a season without hitting at least 25 homers and racking up at least 100 RBIs. Only playing in 128 games, he posted career lows in most stat categories, with his 36 doubles, the second most in his career, a notable exception. His .473 slugging percentage was only the second lowest of his five-year major league career.

But if the awards were any indication — though it should be added there was a dearth of productive first basemen in the American League last season — he still has the ability to be one of the game's best at his position. His 162-game average over the course of the past five seasons: a .295/.353/.516 slash line with 32 home runs and 107 RBIs. Three times in five seasons, Abreu has received MVP votes, finishing as high as fourth during his Rookie of the Year season in 2014.

And on top of all those numbers, Abreu has earned consistent praise for his role off the field. He's been an omnipresent mentor to Yoan Moncada, who's not even two years removed from being the No. 1 prospect in baseball, with the two Cubans' lockers right next to each other in the White Sox clubhouse. And Abreu is touted as an example to all the team's young players, who can look to him as a model for how to go about one's business and prepare on a daily basis.

So the value is obvious. But in order to make a decision on Abreu, the White Sox have to figure out when their planned contention window is going to open. Significant injuries to a host of their highly touted prospects — most notably the elbow injury that forced Michael Kopech into Tommy John surgery — has muddied the waters when it comes to predicting when this wave of minor league talent will was ashore on the South Side.

If that year is soon, if it's still 2020, then having a 33-year-old Abreu in the middle of the order doesn't seem like a bad thing at all. But in order to make that happen, the White Sox will need to give him a contract extension at some point before this time next year, or they'll have to give him a new contract if he were to reach the free-agent market. If the year when the contention window opens is much past 2020, how old is too old to help the White Sox make a championship run? When does the dropoff in production that comes with most aging players arrive?

The White Sox talk highly of Abreu, giving no indication they plan to move on from the guy they spent lavishly on after the 2013 season. And for his part, Abreu continues to talk glowingly about the White Sox and remains committed to saying that he hopes to be in Chicago for the foreseeable future.

"Everybody knows that 2019 is going to be the last season of my current contract, but I try not to think about that because I am part of the White Sox and I believe that I’m going to be part of this organization for a very long time," he said through a translator during a Tuesday conference call with reporters. "That’s something that’s out of my hands right now because I have one season left on this current contract.

"But in case the next season is my last one, I’d like to thank all the White Sox organization and all the people who have been around me during my time on this team, especially the owner, Jerry (Reinsdorf). He has been an outstanding person to me. He’s one of the greatest people that I’ve met in this country.

"But I try not to think about that because I truly believe that I’m going to be part of this organization for a very long time. But we’ll see. I know that this is a business, and that’s the way you have to approach it."

That answer to a reporter's question covered all the bases, a masterclass in the public-relations friendly response. But Abreu does always come off as someone who wants to stick with this team. He knows what's going on in the minor league system and he knows how bright the White Sox future is.

And the White Sox know what Abreu can do. Their reported desire to trade Avisail Garcia might be an indication they're ready to move on from their older players, but Garcia and Abreu are vastly different cases, with Abreu far more productive on the field and more commonly discussed as an asset to the young players off it.

During the 2017 season, the decision on Abreu seemed an easy one for the White Sox: Keep this extraordinarily productive player and team leader around as long as you can. But injuries might have made that decision more difficult — and not the freak ones Abreu suffered during the season, but the ones suffered by prospects that might have changed the timeline of this whole thing, and therefore the "alignment" of Abreu and this team's bright future.