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Here's how Abreu's 3-year deal helps White Sox

@scottmerkin
January 13, 2020

CHICAGO -- José Abreu accepted the White Sox qualifying offer on Nov. 14, placing the free-agent first baseman under team control for the 2020 season at $17.8 million. It was deemed the right fit by some fans and pundits alike, bringing back the soon-to-be 33-year-old for one season and then

CHICAGO -- José Abreu accepted the White Sox qualifying offer on Nov. 14, placing the free-agent first baseman under team control for the 2020 season at $17.8 million.

It was deemed the right fit by some fans and pundits alike, bringing back the soon-to-be 33-year-old for one season and then leaving the road open to explore multi-year options with the franchise staple amidst a wave of burgeoning young White Sox talent. Andrew Vaughn, the team’s top pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, as an example, is viewed as a fast riser at first base and could possibly arrive by ’21.

But that sort of deal was ultimately not what Abreu was aiming for -- nor was it what the White Sox wanted. On Nov. 22, the parties agreed upon a three-year, $50 million deal. Here are four reasons why this multi-year move makes sense.

Abreu is an important mentor and leader

Messages of support and celebration from White Sox teammates -- like pitcher Lucas Giolito, left fielder Eloy Jiménez and shortstop Tim Anderson -- popped up on Twitter when Abreu’s return became official.

“It’s very good, because he’s been our leader, he’s our mentor,” said White Sox third baseman Yoán Moncada through interpreter Billy Russo. “He’s a veteran guy that everybody follows or respects on the team. It’s good to have that kind of presence on the team and for me, especially, it’s very, very, very good because he was one of the guys that has been always with me there, and he has taken me under his wing since Day 1.”

“[Abreu is] not only a productive player in between the lines, but the kind of guy who represents what we want these young players to grow into in terms of professionalism,” said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. “We view him as playing an important role on the field and in the clubhouse for the next few years, and it’s good he was rewarded.”

Abreu has strongly influenced players like Moncada, Luis Robert and Jiménez. Abreu's locker at Guaranteed Rate Field is next to those of Moncada and Jiménez, but his presence resonates throughout the clubhouse. He leads by example through an intense but regimented workout routine, and he's also one to speak up when the moment is called for. Abreu will be an important presence as the team transitions from full-on rebuild to its contending phase.

Abreu still produces

Abreu’s dropoff in 2018 could be attributed to age. But he played in only six games after Aug. 20 that season due to testicular torsion and an infection from an ingrown hair.

Abreu bounced back in 2019 to lead the American League with 123 RBIs while cracking 33 homers, 38 doubles and posting an .834 OPS -- more along the lines of his career averages. Abreu has a knack for driving in runs, even as part of an offense that has finished in the Top 15 in runs scored just once ('14) during his six seasons. Abreu also drove in 19.4 percent of runners in his '19 plate appearances, ranking No. 11 of 130 batters with at least 300 baserunners last season, per Statcast, while finishing with a .959 OPS and 87 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

Abreu's 92.1 mph average exit velocity, his 12.8 barrel percentage and his 48.2 hard-hit percentage all were career bests since Statcast began tracking in 2015, and his numbers against southpaws featured a slash line of .360/.418/.591 in 164 at-bats. Those results go up against his two lowest career OPS+ recorded over each of the past two seasons -- 117 in '18, 119 in '19 -- as well as his on-base percentage dropping below .340 for the first time in both campaigns. He should still open '20 hitting third, but with a projected deep lineup emerging, the White Sox may not rely on him as much in the final two years of his deal.

“There’s enough information out there that people are able to look at aging curves and express concern about a certain type of player,” Hahn said. “It’s part of our job to know the individual and know their work ethic and know how they go about their business to project -- is that decline going to be your normal decline you see in general with players that age or that subset of players that age, or is this going to be a guy who is potentially different?”

As a rookie in 2014, Abreu had minus-10 DRS at first base, according to Baseball-Reference. He dropped that down to 0 in '17, and he finished with minus-3 OAA in ’19, per Statcast. More games spent at designated hitter are likely for Abreu when Vaughn arrives full-time.

A multi-year deal already was being discussed

Hahn confirmed to MLB.com that the multi-year negotiations were fairly advanced before Abreu accepted the qualifying offer.

“So, the order of operations [was] not that he accepted this and then we reached out with a multi-year proposal,” Hahn said. “Again, José is extremely important to our clubhouse.”

Winning with Abreu holds special significance

Abreu should have his first chance to play for a true contender in his seventh season. Free-agent additions Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel emphasized Abreu and his deep connection to the White Sox during their introductory conference calls, a return of a key core piece giving notice to other veterans.

“You heard Yasmani say during his press conference or soon thereafter, ‘We’ll follow Abreu,’” Hahn said. “Yasmani has been in the postseason the last four or five years or something like that. He still is showing respect for Abreu, a guy who hasn’t been there yet, for his career as the leader.”

There are no charity signings, especially for an organization without a winning record since 2012 and without a playoff appearance since ’08. But Abreu means more to this organization then he possibly could mean to any other team.

“We think he fits. Very consistent,” Hahn said. “Having José be a part of this when we get there will make it more special on an individual level for him and for us. There’s a part of you thinking that it would be pretty cool to win with him.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.