CLEVELAND — What kind of impact does Jose Abreu have on young White Sox players?
“Jose?” Eloy Jimenez said after Sunday’s game, a game in which both he and Abreu launched homers off the Crosstown-rival Cubs. “For me, it’s been like a father. He gives me advice, he always tries to help me. And when you find people like that, you don’t know how to explain how great of people they are.”
White Sox fans have heard time and time again that Abreu means so much to this team in the clubhouse. But they might not know why. With Abreu at his third career All-Star Game — with two teammates joining him this time — it was a good opportunity to find out exactly what Abreu means to these White Sox.
Abreu’s a 32-year-old slugger with a career-low on-base percentage heading for free agency this offseason. That’s getting the negatives out of the way, because there are far more positives. In this same season that’s seen his averages dip, his power numbers have kept him All-Star worthy. He ended the first half with 21 homers (sixth in the American League) and 66 RBIs (second, by one, in the AL), on pace to set career highs in both categories.
But the production has always been a given with Abreu since he came over from Cuba ahead of the 2014 season. It’s the off-the-field stuff that has made him truly invaluable to the White Sox as they’ve moved through a rebuild.
As Jimenez’s words made clear, Abreu’s had a remarkable impact on the young Latin players, specifically Jimenez and Yoan Moncada, who have reached the South Side as superstars of the future. According to his All-Star teammates, Abreu’s impact spreads past the two lockers closest to him in the home clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“The impact that I don’t think he really knows that he has is how hard of a worker he is,” James McCann said Monday. “He’s a superstar. He’s a three-time All Star, he puts up unreal numbers, he’s setting organizational records. But you wouldn’t know that based on the way that he acts, the way that he goes about his business, the way that he works. He’s the first one in the cage, he’s in the weight room every day, he leads by example.
“So for me, the impact that he has is when a young kid shows up there and thinks he’s made it and then looks at this guy over here who’s busting his tail day in and day out. That’s only a good thing. It helps the culture. It helps the clubhouse realize, ‘Hey, we’ve still got to work.’”
General manager Rick Hahn called Abreu a model player last week, a further hint that Abreu, despite his age and the expected decrease in production that comes with it, is part of the White Sox long-term plans. But it’s what he does inside that clubhouse that seems to make his staying in a White Sox uniform beyond the end of the 2019 season a near necessity.
“Jose, not only what he does for our team numbers-wise — he hits a bunch of homers, RBI machine — but he’s like an amazing bridge that kind of goes beyond just the baseball side of it,” Lucas Giolito said. “Yoan Moncada comes over from the Red Sox and doesn’t really know anyone. ... He’s a Latin player, doesn’t speak much English yet. Jose’s always there, taking care of those guys.
“He can make everyone feel at home because he’s been around the organization for a long, long time. He’s super positive. … I’ve never seen him get like super mad or overthink anything. He keeps it very, very simple. And I think that’s very good for our team, especially being a veteran, such a good player offensively at first base. He’s a huge part of our team.”
Abreu has made no secret about the fact that he wants to be with the White Sox moving forward. He’s never played on a winning team during his big league career, but he loves the White Sox and loves his teammates. As the skies brighten on the South Side thanks to a first half of the season filled with bright spots, Moncada and Jimenez among them, few have been happier about the change in fortunes that sits on the horizon as Abreu.
After blasting a walk-off home run to sweep last Wednesday’s doubleheader — the same doubleheader in which the future arrived in the form of Dylan Cease’s major league debut — Abreu unleashed his latest declaration that he wants to stay with these White Sox.
Well, at least it was his latest before Monday in Cleveland.
“It has been incredible, because we have been able to prove to those people that maybe didn’t believe in us that we’re going to be good,” Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “And we’re showing them that we are right where we need to be and that we’re going to get better.
“It’s good when you see that all the sacrifices you have been through are paying off. For us, it’s a very exciting moment, and the future is going to be very, very good for us.
“I think my desire to stay with this team is getting bigger every day, after every game. We are good, and we’re going to be very, very good. For me, there’s no secret. I want to be here.
“This is the team that gave me the chance to play in the majors, that made my mom’s dream come true. I’m ready. We’re working for that, and we’re just waiting for when that moment comes.”
And so with the White Sox continuing to rave about Abreu and Abreu continuing to rave about the White Sox, all signs continue to point to Abreu sticking around for the foreseeable future, for the good times he’s long been told have been coming. Abreu’s such a leader for this group, that it’s difficult to envision those good times coming without him.
With the 2019 performances of Giolito, McCann, Jimenez, Moncada, Cease, Tim Anderson, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, not to mention the return of a healthy Michael Kopech, the 2020 season seems to be the one in which the White Sox could open their contention window.
Ask Abreu about that, and he’ll smile — while giving the most Abreu answer imaginable.
“We’re just going to keep working.”