The White Sox are all about the future, all about youth, at this point in their rebuilding effort.
But there’s no better template for what the organization is trying to build than the 31-year-old who could be the team’s lone representative at the All-Star Game next month.
Jose Abreu was revealed as the leading vote-getter among American League first basemen Tuesday, a surprising feat considering his place on a team 20 games under .500 and on a team that doesn’t play in New York or Boston.
Abreu’s statistics certainly make him deserving, as he’s once again been the model of consistency with a .290/.350/.512 slash line that stands high above his competition at the position. But to understand how shocking it is that he’s leading the vote, know this: He’s the first White Sox player to lead his position at any point during balloting since 1996.
“It will be excellent because we play this game for the fans,” Abreu said through a translator Tuesday when asked what it would mean to be voted an American League starter. “To have the honor to represent them and they know what I’m doing, that is really big. If that happens, I would be really happy.”
“We’re pretty excited about that,” manager Rick Renteria said. “All of us, the coaching staff, are very excited. I’m sure the players are, as well. He’s worked really hard and has had some very good seasons. He’ll continue to have another nice season this year. It would be nice to see him there, get the chance to for the whole world to see who Jose Abreu is.”
Abreu has been extremely consistent ever since arriving from Cuba before the 2014 season, last year becoming the third player ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in each of his first four major league seasons. But he’s been to just one All-Star Game, during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2014.
“Those are the experiences you never forget,” he said about his All-Star trip in 2014. “You work for it, and at that time it was recognition for all my work, and for the journey to come to the U.S. and the majors.
“One of the best moments was when I met Derek Jeter, he was in his retirement year and it was a very special moment for me. Just being there, being around great players and having the opportunity to share the field and locker room with them was very special.”
The production speaks for itself, and it’s been enough to make Abreu worthy of an All-Star appearance at pretty much any point throughout his career. But to the White Sox, he’s so much more than a slash line and a collection of home runs and RBIs. He’s a model for what they want all their young players to be, an example of work ethic and how to go about one’s business. He earns rave reviews from every corner of the White Sox clubhouse, and it’s not difficult to see why the team would be especially excited to see Abreu earn this All-Star nod.
It’s also not at all surprising to see why they would want Abreu to stick around throughout this rebuilding process and be a key contributor on the next contending team. Of course, that would necessitate the White Sox inking Abreu to a contract extension, as he’s only under team control through the 2019 season. But that decision doesn’t seem like a difficult one.
“We’ve made no secret about our affection for Jose, and it’s not just based upon the contribution between the white lines, it’s based on what he does in that clubhouse,” general manager Rick Hahn said Monday. “I don’t think there’s a finer representative for what it means to be a White Sock or what we hope for our players to be on and off the field and what Jose Abreu provides us.
“Again, we don’t have to make any decisions on how he fits for the long term for a little while now. He’s under control through the end of next season. If at that point, before that point, if we haven’t come to terms on an extension we certainly will have time then to revisit that.”
For any other team in any other rebuild with any other veteran player, a season like Abreu’s and a potential trip to the All-Star Game might make him an obvious midseason trade candidate. But read Hahn’s words again. Does it sound like Abreu is a guy the White Sox want to deal away? No, it doesn’t. And it sounds like Abreu doesn’t want that, either.
“Right now I am with this organization. I am glad and really grateful for everything this organization has done for me. I would like to stay here forever,” Abreu said, “but right now I am just taking advantage of every moment, every game that I spend with this team. Hopefully I can stay here my whole career.”