Abreu already proving a good fit in Astros clubhouse

November 29th, 2022

HOUSTON -- How much of a fit could slugger José Abreu be in the Astros' clubhouse? Owner Jim Crane said Tuesday morning that Abreu pulled out his phone during a meeting Monday night and had the stored phone numbers of the entire team at his fingertips.

“I guess he knows some of the guys,” Crane joked.

The signing of Abreu, the former White Sox star, to a three-year contract should pay off on the field, as well. Abreu has been one of the game’s top sluggers in recent years, hitting 243 homers since his 2014 debut, and will become the starting first baseman for the defending World Series champs in '23.

“I think it’s simple,” Abreu said after slipping on a No. 79 Astros jersey. “I just want to be part of a great family. In the last six years, the Houston Astros created a great culture, great family and I want to be part of that. Most importantly, I want to win.”

Crane said assistant general manager Bill Firkus and baseball operations advisor Jeff Bagwell flew, along with bench coach Joe Espada, to Abreu’s Miami home earlier this month to close the deal. Abreu was the Astros’ No. 1 offseason target from the moment free agency began, Bagwell said.

“He’s been a consistent player for a number of years,” Crane said. “You throw his bat in the lineup and his statistics, he’s going to put some pop in the lineup. That’s why I was attracted to him. Plus, he’s a first-rate guy. I got to spend some time with him [Monday] night. I know from that meeting and from all the other folks that know José well, he’ll be a great fit in the clubhouse.”

The clubhouse dynamics are important considering how popular Yuli Gurriel has been in Houston’s locker room, too. Abreu and Gurriel are friends and former teammates on the Cuban national team, and Abreu said he has a lot of respect for the man whose job he’s now taking.

“I [played with] him many years in Cuba on the national team,” Abreu said. “Just very grateful and I understand this is part of the business. Hopefully he’s obviously able to stay in the Major Leagues. I have the utmost respect for Yuli.”

Crane didn’t close the door on bringing back Gurriel, 38, in a utility role next year. He played third base professionally in Cuba and has seen some time there and at second base in the Major Leagues, though most of his time on the field has been at first.

Gurriel batted .242 with eight homers and 53 RBIs in the regular season but had a solid postseason, hitting .347 with two homers in 12 games. He suffered a right MCL sprain in Game 5 of the World Series and didn’t play in the Game 6 clincher.

“Certainly, Yuli’s in the mix,” Crane said. “We’ve talked to his agent. That’s where we’re at right now. Kind of taking it one step at a time. We’ll be in communication.”

Abreu, who turns 36 on Jan. 29, played his first nine Major League seasons with the White Sox and has been one of the top middle-of-the-order run producers in the game. Last year, Abreu hit .304 with an .824 OPS, posting a .378 on-base percentage that ranks second in his career and a career-high 62 walks. He profiles to bat sixth in Houston’s lineup behind Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker.

“We should have very high expectations next year,” Crane said. “With adding José in the lineup, you can immediately feel that’s going to have some impact, and we’ll continue to fill maybe a few more holes. We expect to get back to the World Series. That’s our goal.”

The 2020 American League Most Valuable Player, 2014 AL Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger winner was once again a Silver Slugger finalist in ’22. He hit only 15 home runs, driving in 75 runs, in 157 games last year and should benefit from Minute Maid Park’s short left field (315 feet down the line).

“I’ve spoiled a lot of people the last couple of years with all the home runs,” Abreu said. “I used to hit 30 almost every year. I’m not saying it can’t happen again, but being a part of this ballpark and being a part of this family is something I’m so much looking forward to. A lot of great things can happen here.”