White Sox

Will this be Jose Abreu's final year with White Sox? 'I would like to stay with this organization forever'

Will this be Jose Abreu's final year with White Sox? 'I would like to stay with this organization forever'

Will this be Jose Abreu's final season with the White Sox?

The closest thing this team has to a face of the franchise at the moment — at least until Eloy Jimenez arrives from the minor leagues — is slated to hit free agency at the conclusion of the 2019 campaign. His advancing age could mean he doesn't quite line up with the approaching wave of prospects planned to power this team to perennial contention. It's possible that these will be the final 162 games we see of Abreu in a White Sox uniform.

But the relationship between Abreu and the White Sox says something different.

It's never been a secret that the White Sox are gaga about Abreu. They gave him the biggest contract in franchise history. They watched him become one of the best hitters to ever call the South Side home and one of three players in baseball history to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in each of his first four big league seasons. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf presented Abreu with a special ring after he hit for the cycle in 2017.

They consistently rave about his off-the-field contributions, his status as a role model for young players and a leader in the clubhouse. They've placed Yoan Moncada right next to Abreu in the home clubhouse to help influence one of the most important young players in the organization. Luis Robert's locker is right next to Abreu's in the spring training clubhouse at Camelback Ranch.

And then there's Abreu's presence at the team's free-agent meeting with Manny Machado back in December. Would you want him there helping sell a potential decade-long addition if he was only going to be around for one more year?

Abreu, meanwhile, continues to rave about the White Sox, too, as good a pitchman for the ongoing rebuilding process as you'll find and someone who wants to be a part of that transition from rebuilding to contending.

"Being on the inside of this process, you know that there are a few teams who are doing (things) the right way, and I would like to stay with this organization forever," Abreu said through a team translator earlier this month in Arizona, echoing a sentiment he's never been shy about sharing. "But that is one of the things that I can’t control right now."

With all the mutual good feelings between the two, an extension doesn't seem at all unlikely, a new contract that would prevent Abreu from hitting the open market, keep him in black pinstripes to help lead the transition to contention and make him a White Sock forever.

General manager Rick Hahn doesn't seem to expect that to happen before the end of the season, though he also pointed out that that type of thing wouldn't be without precedent.

"Never say never," he said, "but more often than not, we handle our business in the offseason. There’s been exceptions over the years. ... Back when we did (Mark) Buehrle midseason, Jermaine Dye midseason. I’m guessing in spring training we probably said something to the effect of, ‘We’ll revisit it at the end of the season.’ So there are exceptions. But generally we prefer to do business in the offseason."

And so maybe this question could linger throughout the year. And it wouldn't be a surprise if the White Sox were still in wait-and-see mode throughout the campaign. In 2018, Abreu added more achievements to his major league resume — elected an All-Star Game starter and winning a Silver Slugger — but it was statistically the worst season of his career, with downturns in production thanks to an uncharacteristic midseason slump and a pair of freak injuries that prevented a statistical rebound late in the baseball calendar.

"Those were very difficult experiences," Abreu said. "I like to be on the field. I like to help this team compete and win games. And I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t control that. But I learned and I appreciated that because that made me stronger. I appreciated more the things we do."

A better output than his .265/.325/.473 slash line, 22 homers and 78 RBIs is expected for 2019, with full health and a more consistent campaign more resembling his first four seasons. But all players have a point in their careers where their production begins to drop, and it's not uncommon for that point to come around the age Abreu is at now, 32. Depending on what kind of numbers Abreu puts up this season — or depending on what everyone else does to impact how far away the White Sox are from contention mode — the decision could be made to move on after six years, to truly put all the focus on the youngsters.

But, again, the way the White Sox feel about Abreu speaks volumes, and it might even forecast the decision they have ahead of them.

And what they've done this offseason might, too. In trading for Yonder Alonso, another first baseman who hasn't DH'd much during his nine-year major league career, Hahn talked about the benefits of playing Abreu at designated hitter and keeping him off his feet a little more regularly. While Abreu jokingly said, in English, in the early weeks of spring training that "I don’t like DH," he's OK with splitting time with Alonso at both positions. The White Sox trying to keep Abreu off his feet is a potential sign they're trying to extend his career as much they can, perhaps with an extension, or at least the idea of one, in mind.

We'll see how things play out, and we might need to wait until October before this situation is wrapped up. But like Hahn said, never say never when it comes to getting an early answer. Abreu could be one of the rare White Sox stars that breaks the mold.

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Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

White Sox fans suddenly have reason to stop focusing on the minor leagues.

Rick Hahn's front office has done an incredible amount of work this winter adding impact veterans to the team's young core, and because of it, there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side. The summer figures to be spent focusing on what Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease are doing at the major league level rather than what the potential stars of the future are doing in the minors.

In other words, the future is here.

But it's worth noting that the White Sox still have some of the best prospects in the game. It's true that a few of the biggest names among that group won't be prospects for much longer. Luis Robert just got a high-priced contract extension that clears the way for him to be in the lineup on Opening Day. While Michael Kopech will be limited in some fashion as the White Sox manage his workload in his return from Tommy John surgery, it's hardly out of the question that he could be a part of the 26-man group that leaves Glendale at the end of March. And Nick Madrigal, Hahn has said, figures to be the White Sox second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 campaign after he reached the doorstep of the majors last year.

The point is, however, that the White Sox core is not done growing. Moncada, Giolito, Anderson and Jimenez all broke out in big ways in 2019, and the veterans added to that group could push the team into contention mode as soon as this season. But Robert, Kopech, Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn are set to join that core, too, expanding it to one the White Sox hope will power championship contenders for years to come.

The Athletic's Jim Bowden ranked Robert as his No. 1 prospect in baseball, picking the 22-year-old center fielder to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. And that's no stretch after the way Robert lit the minor leagues on fire in 2019. Playing at three different levels, he slashed .328/.376/.624 with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 31 doubles, 108 runs scored and 36 stolen bases. He's a true five-tool threat who receives rave reviews that peg him as potentially the best of all the White Sox young talent. MLB Pipeline is in the middle of rolling out their rankings ahead of the 2020 season, and we'll learn where Robert ranks on the site's updated list next weekend during SoxFest. But most recently, Robert was the site's No. 3 prospect in the game.

Kopech still has prospect status despite the fact that he made his big league debut in August 2018. That Tommy John surgery limited his major league experience to this point to just four games, wiping out his 2019 season. Whether he'll be the same elite pitcher that was promised prior to his surgery is one of several important questions facing the 2020 White Sox, but it doesn't seem to be deterring the rankers. Bowden has Kopech as the No. 11 prospect in baseball, and MLB Pipeline ranked him as the No. 4 right-handed pitching prospect in the game. Kopech is said to still be capable of unleashing the blazing fastball that made him such a tantalizing prospect in the first place. The big question now is how often he'll be able to use it, with the White Sox planning to limit him in some capacity. We'll have to wait until spring to find out exactly what those limitations look like.

Madrigal might not spend a long time at Triple-A Charlotte, expected to be manning second base for the big league White Sox for the majority of the 2020 season. But like they did with Moncada, Jimenez and Robert before him, the White Sox have no plans to rush Madrigal to the majors. Bowden has him ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the game, and we'll find out soon where MLB Pipeline has him among second basemen. We already know they think the world of his glove — which was touted as Gold Glove caliber by the White Sox the night they drafted him in 2018 — naming him the second baseman on their all-defense team (he won a minor league Gold Glove for his work last season, too). MLB Pipeline also polled general managers, scouting directors and executives across all 30 teams, and Madrigal's name popped up often, voted to possess the third best hit tool, the third best glove and the highest baseball IQ among all of the game's prospects. The guy struck out just 16 times in 532 trips to the plate last season, so he's obviously doing something right.

Vaughn is receiving similarly rave reviews this winter. Bowden ranked him as the game's No. 35 prospect, and MLB Pipeline might end up putting the White Sox most recent first-round pick even higher, naming him the top first-base prospect in baseball. A slugger whose bat earned high praise when he came out of Cal last summer, Vaughn might not reach the South Side in 2020 like the rest of the guys discussed here. But he does figure to have a similar impact when he finally does. He played just 52 games between Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem after joining the organization, hitting a combined five homers at those stops. He's still swinging the bat that launched 50 homers and drove in 163 runs over three seasons in college. That aforementioned MLB Pipeline executive poll? In it, Vaughn was picked as having the second best hit tool in the game. The White Sox just gave Abreu a three-year contract extension that will keep him on the South Side through at least the 2022 campaign, but the 37-year-old Encarnacion could be here as briefly as one year (his contract has an option for 2021), potentially opening up a spot for Vaughn should everything go right in the minors.

And this is without even mentioning guys like Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever, who could all wind up playing important roles on the pitching staff.

So while there is plenty of reason for your minor league interest to wane — because meaningful baseball is expected to be happening at the major league level in 2020 — know that the White Sox farm system (at least the tippy top of it) is still worth salivating over. These guys should be on the South Side soon, only adding fuel to the fire Hahn has built this winter.

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Could baseball's sign-stealing scandal lead to a manager's job for Ozzie Guillen?

Could baseball's sign-stealing scandal lead to a manager's job for Ozzie Guillen?

Will baseball's sign-stealing scandal have a silver lining for a South Side legend?

Three teams whose managers were caught up in the scandal are suddenly without skippers just a month away from the start of spring training: the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. The Astros' practice of stealing signs and relaying them to players on the field during their championship season in 2017 led to the firings of A.J. Hinch, Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, creating three high-profile job openings.

January managerial searches aren't common, for obvious reasons, and while any or all of the teams in the market for a new manager could go about it as a regular search — potentially sticking with baseball's trend of young, inexperienced guys at the helm — there's a good argument to be made that an experienced skipper would be best to slide into that position this late in the offseason calendar.

There has been no shortage of suggested candidates, but one was conspicuously absent from an extensive list discussed on MLB Network, an experienced manager with a World Series championship on his resume. And that former manager was happy to point out the omission.

Guillen hasn't managed since 2012, after his one-year tenure leading the Miami Marlins came to an end. But he obviously turned in a legendary managerial career on the South Side, guiding the White Sox to a World Series win in 2005 and winning nearly 700 regular-season games during his eight seasons as skipper.

While the always outspoken Guillen does not exactly fit the trendy mold of an inexperienced manager with a close relationship to the front office, he's undoubtedly been successful running a major league team. That experience could prove valuable for any of the three teams that have seen their cultures get blown up in recent days.

Swooping in at the last minute to provide a steady hand for an organization in crisis isn't the typical way to land a long-term gig, and people with personalities like Guillen's are disappearing from managerial roles and the game, in general.

But the Astros, especially, as well as the Red Sox and Mets, to lesser degrees, are capable of winning. Guillen knows a thing or two about winning, and these front offices might want to keep that in mind as they're looking to fill these surprise vacancies.

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