On November 18, mlb.com listed next year’s top free agent for every team Jose Abreu, according to the author, is that player for the Chicago White Sox. Abreu, along with teammate Avisail Garcia, “seem like obvious Trade Deadline candidates this year. It’s a little surprising neither has been traded already.” On November 23 , another writer on the site noted, “Abreu has been the subject of trade rumors for quite some time, but with one year of arbitration eligibility remaining, this would be the time for Chicago to move him if the club doesn’t get off to a good start.” Although espn.com recognized Abreu as a key member in a potentially dangerous lineup were the White Sox to land Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, or both, their experts have allotted airtime and print space to deem him the next big name jettisoned in order to propel the organization’s rebuild.
The pressing question is whether to deal Abreu in 2019 before possibly losing him to free agency next offseason. I would argue that neither scenario makes the most sense. The projected payroll for the coming season is $54 million. The White Sox should offer him a three-year extension at $20 million annually plus incentives. Show him in financial terms that the organization values him and believes he can contribute to the bright future. Abreu will be 32 years old when the 2019 season begins. It is likely that the White Sox would gain a solid return by trading him, though doubtful a haul comparable to the trades of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, or even Adam Eaton because of age and only one year remaining. Best case scenario, Abreu is contributing to a stacked 2020 White Sox team. Otherwise, given the current market and expectation for contracts to soon exceed $400 million, there will be plenty of teams in 2021 seeking a proven, durable professional at a controllable cost. Who else is the biggest trade chip in that time frame? Jimenez, Moncada, Michael Kopech and valuable prospects are the products of a long rebuild. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado would be franchise-altering moves. These are not baits to be dangled if success does not materialize quickly enough.
Here is a link to Abreu’s career stats: https://www.mlb.com/player/jose-abreu-547989
Last season was the first that he played in less than 145 games, due in large part to a nagging hernia toward the end of the year; the division standings ultimately determining it wiser to shut him down. Accordingly, his season stats diminished, as well. I will let the professional baseball writers and statisticians weigh these numbers, along with WAR, comparables, and other advanced metrics in the era of analytics. There is ample justification for betting on him, however. First, the guy continues to produce, earning his second career Silver Slugger Award in 2018 despite the noted dip. Second, he is revered in the locker room as a mentor and role-model for the young players in the organization, notably fellow Latin Americans. It was only five years ago that the White Sox were lauded for landing the Cuban defector amidst competition from the likes of Boston, New York, and other big spenders. And now as the elder statesman, his everyday presence and work-ethic are integral to maintaining manager Rick Renteria’s mantras of hustle and commitment, particularly during the course of a 100-loss campaign. Yoan Moncada is not going to gripe or pout if disciplined when Abreu is around. And Eloy Jimenez will learn this valuable insight next season. This reality emphasizes the third reason for keeping him: character. He has never once complained about being on a losing team, being underappreciated, underpaid, overshadowed by the North Side, or trade speculation. He prepares, does his job exceptionally, and has supported the efforts of the organization through lean years. I am not advancing the “Shut up and play” ignorance spouted by too many “fans” who claim unearned right to criticize athletes, particularly athletes of color. Harper and Machado are generational players with star-appeal that will fill seats. Yet, neither would quickly fill Abreu’s shoes. Both players would soon recognize the lack of attention that the South Side draws from the national media. Once the splash of any massive signing ripples out, the next news cycle is churning, and the dog days of a long season are underway, Abreu’s absence would be glaring and add to the weight on any potential franchise player for a team with budding expectations.
As a fan entering my fourth decade, I am well aware that sports are a business; players, agents, pundits, and owners remind us daily. Hell, arguably the greatest White Sox player of all time, Frank Thomas, watched the 2005 World Series from outside the locker room. I recognize it is easy for me to sit and spend Jerry Reinsdorf’s money as a die-hard ChiSox supporter. Nevertheless, the facts remain: the White Sox have buying power and a loaded farm system; General Manager Rick Hahn has demonstrated savvy and skill; Kenny Williams’ influence has waned, but his presence remains; the roster includes exciting talent; the manager is both patient and demanding; and Jose Abreu is still clearly the team leader.