Jose Abreu

White Sox avoid arbitration with quartet including Jose Abreu and Carlos Rodon

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USA TODAY

White Sox avoid arbitration with quartet including Jose Abreu and Carlos Rodon

The White Sox will not be taking part in the arbitration process this winter, handing out contracts to all four of their remaining arbitration-eligible players Friday.

Jose Abreu, Carlos Rodon, Yolmer Sanchez and the recently acquired Alex Colome all agreed to one-year deals.

Abreu will receive $16 million after the worst statistical season of his big league career. But despite a slide in statistics caused by an uncharacteristic, extended slump in the middle of the season and a pair of freak injuries, Abreu was elected as the American League's starting first baseman in the All-Star Game and won the second Silver Slugger of his career. He remains the team's best hitter heading into the final year of his current contract.

Colome will receive $7.325 million as he begins his tenure on the South Side. Acquired in the trade that sent Omar Narvaez to the Seattle Mariners, Colome will likely return to closing two seasons after he led the majors in saves. He probably would have kept racking up saves last season had he not been dealt from the Tampa Bay Rays in a midseason trade.

Rodon will receive $4.2 million after a bounce-back season of sorts that saw him return from shoulder surgery. For the second straight year, he didn't debut until June, but he showed an ace-like ability at times, with a particularly nasty stretch during July and August, when he owned a 1.84 ERA over the course of nine starts. A rough September, though, ballooned his ERA to 4.18 by season's end. He'll be tasked with completing a healthy season in 2019 after making just 32 combined starts in 2017 and 2018.

Sanchez ($4.625 million) ranked among the major league leaders in triples, one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise challenging year offensively. Only Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Ketel Marte had more triples than Sanchez's 10, a number that led the AL. But he slashed just .242/.306/.372. Still, Sanchez plays a big role in energizing the clubhouse and keeping things light. His versatility on the infield makes things easier for Rick Renteria, too, and should be valuable as the White Sox still aren't sure how their infield alignment will shake out for the 2019 season.

Leury Garcia, who was also eligible for arbitration this offseason, agreed to a one-year deal back at the end of November.

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White Sox Team of the Future: Designated hitter

White Sox Team of the Future: Designated hitter

What will the next championship-contending White Sox team look like?

That's what we're setting out to determine (or at least make a guess at) over the next few weeks. Ten members of our White Sox content team here at NBC Sports Chicago put our heads together to try to project what each position on the diamond would look like in one, two, three years. Basically, we posed the question: What will the White Sox starting lineup be the next time they're capable of playing in the World Series?

That question can have a bunch of different answers, too. We didn't limit ourselves to players currently a part of the organization. Think the White Sox are gonna make a big free-agent addition? Vote for that player. Think the White Sox are gonna pull off a huge trade? Vote for that player. We wanted to see some creativity.

We're moving on to designated hitter, and while much of the roster of the future is made up of players who haven't even put on a White Sox uniform yet, the winner here is someone who's already become one of the best hitters in team history. Jose Abreu is our designated hitter of the future.

Penciling in Abreu at DH and not first base isn't a knock on his fielding skills, though the White Sox will likely use Abreu more at the DH spot in 2019, platooning him there and at first base with newly acquired Yonder Alonso, in an effort to keep him off his feet a little more and possibly extend his career a bit. That becomes important if the team determines that the soon-to-be-32 Abreu is a part of the long-term future.

That's a determination that still needs to be made, with Abreu now in the final year of his current contract. An extension has long seemed a very real possibility, even if Abreu's age is significantly higher than the majority of the players who figure to make up the long-term core, the Eloy Jimenezes, the Luis Roberts, the Michael Kopechs. If Abreu's production drops off, maybe the White Sox decide to move on. Or maybe developments in the minor leagues will kick the contention window a tad further down the road, making the remainder of Abreu's career a poor alignment with those long-term plans of perennial contention on the South Side.

But the most realistic outcome still seems to be Abreu sticking around. The White Sox love this guy, constantly touting him as a model for their young players. They rave about his work ethic and describe him as someone who goes about his business in exactly the right way. They placed Yoan Moncada, a big part of those future plans, right next to Abreu in the clubhouse, hoping one Cuban could learn a lot from another. Team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf bestowed a special ring on Abreu after he became just the sixth White Sox player ever to hit for the cycle. And Abreu himself always talks about his love of the organization and how he hopes to be a part of it for his entire career.

And while those off-the-field qualities might have the biggest impact on the fleet of highly rated youngsters making their way to the major leagues, the on-the-field production has been just as excellent. Abreu is one of three players in baseball history — the others Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols, two of the best to ever play the game — to start his career with four straight seasons of at least 25 homers and 100 RBIs. He was the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year, he's a two-time All Star, including the AL's starting first baseman in 2018, and a two-time Silver Slugger. He's received MVP votes in three of his five seasons, finishing as high as fourth in 2014.

Last season saw Abreu go on an uncharacteristic, prolonged slump in the middle of the season that dragged his numbers down. And yet thanks to a red-hot stretch, it was possible he could have reached that 25-homer, 100-RBI mark yet again. Two freak injuries snuffed that hope out, twice sending him to the DL in the season's final months.

With full health and more consistency, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see 2018, statistically, end up an aberration. Plus, more rest thanks to increased time at DH could help Abreu in both the short and long terms.

Will he be here when the White Sox are next contending for a championship? It's a possibility, and one that doesn't seem all that unlikely. Abreu likes playing in the field, but he's our designated hitter of the future.

Other vote-getters

Yonder Alonso. The newly acquired Alonso isn't under contract long, with only one guaranteed season on the South Side coming in 2019. There's an option for the 2020 season. Alonso has certainly been productive in the past, the very recent past, for that matter, as he's just two years removed from an All-Star season in 2017, when he had a .365 on-base percentage and slugged .501 with 28 homers. He's a solid pickup for the White Sox who figures to help out Abreu, provide the lineup with some on-base skills it desperately needs and potentially even assist in luring Manny Machado to the South Side. Is he part of the long-term answer? Probably not, soon to be 32 himself without the five seasons of White Sox service that Abreu has. But one voter perhaps envisioned the team's contention window popping open at some point in the near future, meaning Alonso could still be around, in 2020, to be part of a contending group.

Daniel Palka. Palka showed he could be a powerful presence as a designated hitter, hitting 27 home runs as a rookie last season. He's constantly working on improving his outfield defense, though he seems better suited as a DH. That being said, the opportunity to play there seems to have dried up in a hurry with the import of Alonso, who as mentioned will split time at DH and first with Abreu. So where does that leave Palka? Not as a full-time starter, that's for sure, especially now that Jon Jay has been signed to upgrade the outfield. Palka will probably still get his opportunities, and he'll have to take advantage of them to work his way into the long-term conversation at any position. But he's got lefty pop, always a valuable commodity, so there's obviously a chance.

Jake Burger. There were outside questions about whether the White Sox first-round draft pick from 2017 could stick at third base, questions seemingly answered by director of player development Chris Getz at last year's SoxFest: "From what I’ve seen, there’s nothing that says that he can’t play third base." But then came the pair of Achilles tears that Burger experienced during 2018, not only robbing him of valuable developmental time in the minor leagues, but perhaps even more emphatically throwing his ability to stick at third into question. That's not to say, though, that he's done by any stretch, and a guy who swung a big bat at Missouri State could keep swinging it in the minor leagues and find his way to the majors as a valuable part of the lineup of the future. And one voter thinks he'll be doing it as a DH.

Zack Collins. Another first-round pick with questions about where he'll end up defensively is Collins. The White Sox are still plenty confident he can be their long-term catcher, and that's the track he's on in the minor leagues. But he also got a lot of experience as a DH last season when he and fellow catching prospect Seby Zavala were on the same roster at Double-A Birmingham, playing catcher in only 74 of his 122 games. Even though he won the Double-A Home Run Derby, Collins' most impressive achievement in 2018 was a fantastic .382 on-base percentage, something that will definitely be of value, no matter what position he ends up playing. There have been questions about his defense since he was drafted, rightly or wrongly, and so it's no surprise to see one of our voters putting him at DH.

Khris Davis. Here's a creative pick. Already one of the better designated hitters in the game, Davis is set to become a free agent following the 2019 season. He was sensational in 2018, finishing eighth in AL MVP voting after hitting a major league leading 48 home runs and driving in 123 runs for the playoff-making Oakland A's. Should the White Sox keep looking to make big free-agent splashes next winter — perhaps meaning they missed out on Machado and Bryce Harper this offseason — Davis could be an intriguing name in a loaded free-agent class.

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Cuban players will no longer need to defect to sign with MLB teams

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USA TODAY

Cuban players will no longer need to defect to sign with MLB teams

For years, the Cuban pipeline into Major League Baseball has involved a bit of a seedy underbelly, but an agreement between MLB, its players’ association and the Cuban Baseball Federation plans to make for a cleaner process.

Cubans will be able to sign under a system similar to how Japanese and Korean players sign with MLB teams.

In MLB’s own press release, commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t mince words over the situation that had existed with Cuban players.

"For years, Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations by creating a safe and legal alternative for those players to sign with Major League Clubs,” Manfred said. “We believe that this agreement accomplishes that objective and will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball."

The White Sox and Cubs have both signed notable Cuban players in recent years, although the White Sox have done so more frequently. The White Sox had Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez play key roles in the 2005 World Series run, although neither player signed with the White Sox out of Cuba. Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo and Jose Abreu did. Highly-regarded prospect Luis Robert signed in May of 2017 for a $26 million signing bonus.

Current White Sox players Abreu and Yoan Moncada were quoted in the press release.

"Words cannot fully express my heartfelt joy and excitement in learning that Rob Manfred and Tony Clark have reached an agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation,” Abreu said. “Knowing that the next generation of Cuban baseball players will not endure the unimaginable fate of past Cuban players is the realization of an impossible dream for all of us. Dealing with the exploitation of smugglers and unscrupulous agencies will finally come to an end for the Cuban baseball player.

"The next generation of Cuban baseball players will be able to sign an MLB contract while in Cuba, they will be able to keep their earnings as any other player in the world, they will be able to return to Cuba, they will be able to share with their families, and they will be able to play the sport they love against the best players in the world without fear and trepidation. Great day for Cuban baseball players.”

“It is good to know that players will not have to take a risk or be in danger to try and get to the United States to play baseball,” Moncada said. “I am really happy and wish future players the best. I'll be waiting for you in the big leagues."

The Cubs signed Jorge Soler for a nine-year, $30 million contract in 2012. Soler came up with the Cubs and played in parts of three seasons and is now with the Royals. Gerardo Concepcion, who made three MLB appearances with the Cubs in 2016, signed a $6 million deal also in 2012.

The way both Chicago teams will deal with signing Cuban players will change dramatically with this agreement, which is set to last through the end of the 2021 season. The deal applies to players under contract with the Cuban Baseball Federation and will involved a “release fee” to the federation from the MLB team which signs the player. This money will go back to the Cuban federation while allowing for safer player movement.

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