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Last time José Abreu wended his way through a contract year, he told everybody that he’d re-sign himself to the White Sox no matter what, and the White Sox rewarded him with a three-year contract that struck a lot of people as bidding against themselves. Even Rick Hahn remarked that they wouldn’t use it as a case study in business school for either side.
Three years later, Abreu and the White Sox are at the same crossroads before the final game of the season. If both sides make more traditional, interest-oriented decisions this time around, today will be Abreu’s last game on the South Side.
Abreu’s strange insistence on remaining a White Sox back in 2019 had a charming quality, and while it was refreshing to hear sincere sentiment rise above business talks, it was also kinda true. Abreu could sign himself, as long as the White Sox issued him the $17.8 million qualifying offer. The only question was whether he’d be settling for a one-year deal by going that route, but the White Sox eventually overrode it with a three-year, $50 million extension that neither side regrets.
Abreu can’t be issued a qualifying offer again, so when he actually enters free agency this time around, he’ll do so with no strings attached. That’s perhaps one of the reasons why he hasn’t engaged in such rhetoric.
“Because I already know the process,” Abreu said through an interpreter when asked whether he’s not promising to come back to the White Sox as he had in years past. “I’m just thankful and loyal to Jerry (Reinsdorf). He gave me the opportunity to play here and I appreciate that. I always will be grateful for that opportunity. Like I said, I am a White Sox. I’ll be a White Sox tomorrow. We’ll see.”
There’s also a lot more writing on the wall, whether it’s the presence of three other 1B/DH types on the roster (Andrew Vaughn, Eloy Jiménez, Gavin Sheets), or the fact that Abreu has closing out his age-35 season with just one homer over his last 55 games. He’s done a remarkable job of compensating around the drop-off in home-run power — .310/.372/.386 is the prettiest kind of slump — but it’s hard to commit to a 15-homer first baseman at Guaranteed Rate Field.
What complicates matters is that Abreu is the only one who held up his end of the bargain in succession planning. Back in July, after a game where Abreu went 4-for-4 while the rest of the lineup went 3-for-31 with 15 strikeouts, I wrote that no White Sox were stepping up to take the baton from Abreu. Andrew Vaughn had the best claim at the time, but he’s closing out his season with a .238/.290/.388 second half. Eloy Jiménez has since stepped up, but if you combine his plate appearances from the last two years, it’ll come up more than 100 short of Abreu’s total from 2022 alone.
Some White Sox have talent, some White Sox have durability, but Abreu’s the only one who shown both on any reliable basis. The timing is such that Abreu will still probably be the odd man out, which is why there remains a sense of disbelief and unfairness no matter how simple the math.
Taking the only stable presence out of the White Sox lineup looks like a terribly counterproductive decision. Then again, when a 36-year-old Abreu still looks like a structural necessity to the lineup and clubhouse seven years after starting a scorched-earth rebuild, the White Sox might need the absence of Abreu to confront how they developed so few fixtures, even if the conclusion is that everybody took Abreu for granted.
When Abreu signed his three-year deal, everybody dreamed of his loyalty being rewarded with a championship, or at least an American League pennant. Instead, the team gave him two whole postseason home games, and Abreu is closing out a brilliant nine-year run of Hall-of-Fame-caliber consistency by being one of the few things about the White Sox that doesn’t suck. You might say his career has come full circle, but I’m not sure the White Sox ever really went anywhere.