Leury García wasn’t sure what to make of José Abreu when he first joined the White Sox for the 2014 season.
“He didn’t talk too much,” García said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. “… But as soon as we started talking, we started being like family, teammates, I knew right away that he’s got something good.”
Now, Abreu and García, the only remaining members of a 2014 White Sox squad that went 73-89, are part of the first White Sox team to make the playoffs in back-to-back years. As the White Sox (93-69) prepare for the American League Division Series this week, they have their sights set even higher.
The rebuild that launched the White Sox into playoff contention for the first time in over a decade didn’t start in earnest until about five years ago, at the 2016 Winter Meetings. The White Sox’ moves that offseason included a trade that sent Chris Sale to the Red Sox for infielder Yoán Moncada, then-prospect Michael Kopech and a couple other minor-leaguers.
“Boston was different,” Moncada recalled last week, through team interpreter Billy Russo. “They were competing. Here, we were starting a different process. All throughout the years, I found out that process was good for us. It brought us to where we are right now.”
So, Abreu and García toiled through some aimless years, with the White Sox finishing sub-.500 every season from 2013 (when the Rangers traded García to the White Sox for Alex Rios) through 2019. But the White Sox have transitioned into championship-window mode the past couple seasons, giving up prospects and young talent for established weapons, rather than the other way around.
“To see some of the trades and some of the free agent signings that we have got, it definitely shows that they’re the guys with the plan,” All-Star Tim Anderson said of the front office. “I guess it wasn’t for me to see, but now I do see it, so I’m excited and couldn’t be more happy to be right in the middle of it.”
Abreu and Gacía were there for every step, and as the team evolved, so did they. Abreu took on a mentorship role, eventually winning the 2020 MVP. Gacía became a steady presence at whatever position needed filling, earning the nickname, The Legend.
"Everyone knows that both those players were here from the start,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said, “They both lead in their own way.”
Looking back to Spring Training this year, García, the White Sox’ longest-tenured player, can point to the moment things felt different, like the club that he’d been through so much with could contend for a World Series.
“We had a position player meeting, and we all were on the same page,” he said, “like, ‘Man, look at this team. We’ve got all the pieces that we need to win the game.’”
Moncada felt it too.
“It was the first time I could say, the rebuilding process is already done,” he said.
Some seven months later, the White Sox were spraying champagne in the Progressive Field visitors’ clubhouse after clinching the AL Central title for the first time since 2008 and punching their ticket to the postseason.
“That’s a great feeling,” said García, who missed last year’s celebration while recovering from a torn ligament in his left thumb, “and one everyone wants to feel again.”
Since the clincher, Abreu has taken time to reflect on the years long journey that built up to that franchise-history-making moment.
“Just enjoying this moment and very glad to be here,” he said through Russo. “The White Sox did a great job, and we knew that this would happen. Right now, just enjoy this moment and keep working.”