Can Rick Renteria imagine the White Sox shifting into contention mode without Jose Abreu?
“No,” he said in a rapid-fire response before the start of the team’s final homestand.
It’s that easy an answer for the White Sox manager, who’s been one of a large and enthusiastic chorus of teammates, managers, coaches, front-office members and fans that continues to sing the praises of Abreu, the three-time All-Star first baseman slated to hit free agency after the 2019 season.
The 2019 season, of course, only has six days remaining for these White Sox, and Abreu’s future is still officially unknown. Though despite making it clear that his front office would have no contract extensions to announce during the season, the words of general manager Rick Hahn and many others have made an Abreu union seem like a foregone conclusion all summer.
“He’s been here throughout the early stages of this rebuild,” Hahn said during an MLB Network interview in May, “and it’s certainly very likely that he’ll be here for the more enjoyable stages that lie ahead of us.”
Abreu has spent six remarkably productive seasons on the South Side, with the 2019 campaign being one of his most productive. He’s the American League’s RBI leader after smashing the career high he set in his first big league season in 2014. If he manages three more home runs in the White Sox final seven games this week, he’ll match his career high in that category, too.
Abreu’s biggest value to the White Sox, however, might come off the field, where he serves as a mentor to young players like Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez. Luis Robert, the organization’s top-ranked prospect and another fellow Cuban, is expected to join that group when he arrives in the major leagues next season.
Earlier this season, Jimenez said Abreu has been "like a father" to him. Moncada has been by Abreu's side since reaching the major leagues in 2017.
“He has taught me a lot, on and off the field,” Moncada said Tuesday through team translator Billy Russo. “That's something that I will be always thankful for him because he's been a mentor for me, and I appreciate that.”
Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez and Tim Anderson have been an incredibly productive foursome during the final month of the season, giving credence to Abreu’s words back in August that the 2020 season, one in which the White Sox could shift into contention mode, starts now.
Anderson added his voice to the group advocating for Abreu’s return Tuesday.
“He means a lot,” Anderson said. “He's leading the way. He was here when we were struggling, so I want him to be here when we're winning. I think it's only right.”
Abreu has certainly put in his time as the White Sox have sought to create a sustainable contender on the South Side. In his six years with the team, he’s never reached the postseason, never finished a season with a winning record.
But that hasn’t done one thing to sour his opinion of the organization he’s routinely thanked as he’s climbed the franchise leaderboards and joined elite South Side company throughout the 2019 season. Abreu is as aware as anyone of the team’s bright future, and he’s cited it as his reasoning for wanting to stick around. At the All-Star Game in Cleveland, he pledged that if the White Sox didn’t re-sign him, he’d sign himself and play for them anyway. More newsworthy, perhaps, was his revelation to the Sun-Times that chairman Jerry Reinsdorf promised Abreu he’d never play in another uniform.
And so as the White Sox head into the offseason, it all seems a matter of when, not if, the team will announce Abreu’s return on a new contract. Anderson’s advocacies are likely shared by the folks who are making the decisions in the front office. Fans taking to social media and begging the White Sox to bring Abreu back are likely preaching to the choir.
Renteria and Anderson can’t picture the White Sox making their long-awaited transition without Abreu. If all goes according to expectation, they won’t have to.
“When you see him going out there and doing everything he does, he's been a big part of who we are continuing to move forward,” Renteria said. “He's one of those guys that I cannot see not being a part of us as we move forward.
“Obviously, I don't control that, but I think the organization in general feels very confident about him and what he brings to the table. So I'm optimistic he's going to continue to be a part of us as we move forward.”