For Abreu, 'focus is just to enjoy this season'

Veteran slugger won't look past 2022 as he enters final year of contract

March 17th, 2022

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first rule about the last year of José Abreu’s three-year, $50 million contract with the White Sox is, don’t talk about the 2022 season possibly being Abreu’s final run with the organization.

“Well, we haven't even started the season,” Abreu said through interpreter Billy Russo during his first Spring Training interview session Wednesday at Camelback Ranch. “Let's see how the season goes, and let's see if we accomplish all the things we want to accomplish.

“I'm pretty sure I'm going to consult with my family, see how I'm feeling, see how they're feeling, and we are going to make a decision afterward. Right now, the focus is just to enjoy this season and have fun.”

This 2022 campaign marks Abreu’s ninth with the White Sox after the Cuban emigree came to the South Side via a six-year, $68 million deal prior to the 2014 campaign. He won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in ’14, captured AL Most Valuable Player honors in ’20 and has hit 25 home runs and driven in at least 100 runs in six of his seven full seasons.

In this decade of baseball, playing for teams not exactly on the high end of the competitive side up until ’20, Abreu already has placed his name across the franchise record book and become a truly influential figure. He sits third in home runs with 228, although he's unlikely to catch Frank Thomas (448) or Paul Konerko (432). His 788 RBIs rank him seventh, with a great chance to crack the top five in ’22, while he’s also seventh in doubles and eighth in sacrifice flies.

Abreu even sits fifth with his 148 double play grounders and third after being hit by a pitch 105 times. But as great as he has been on the field, Abreu’s presence in the clubhouse and leadership for this team have been the gold standard. Those teammates want Abreu to stay, but they also are tabling the topic at this early stage.

“Let's enjoy this one. This is the year. Let's hope he comes back,” said left fielder Eloy Jiménez, who has been one of the many young players mentored by Abreu. “Next year is going to have business. This year is what we need to take care of.”

When Abreu last approached free agency after the 2019 season, he joked about signing himself back if the White Sox didn’t present a new offer. He saw the makings of an extremely talented team, players who developed as they stood next to him on the field or in the on-deck circle, and he didn’t want to miss being a significant part of this competitive window.

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf had promised Abreu and his family he would be back, and that promise was clearly upheld. So why the change now, especially after Abreu hit 30 homers with 117 RBIs and featured an .831 OPS in a physically challenging 2021 season?

Remember, Abreu turned 35 on Jan. 29 and played from 2003-13 for Cienfuegos in Cuba, hitting .453 with 33 homers and 93 RBIs over 293 plate appearances in 2010-11. There are also players such as Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets who could move to first base soon, as the roster is presently constructed, which might push a vastly improved defensive presence such as Abreu to designated hitter.

Jiménez, who will open this season in left field, could be a future DH, although he stated again Wednesday how little he wants to move to that spot. Abreu’s 2021 maladies included being hit by a pitch a career-high 22 times, getting injured when he crashed into Hunter Dozier after chasing Dozier’s popup down the first-base line toward home plate and suffering an ankle injury that knocked him out for a series in Minnesota.

Everything feels good now for Abreu, with the first baseman expressing his excitement for a third straight White Sox playoff appearance through a mix of English and Spanish on Wednesday. There’s just no looking past tomorrow … or this season.

“My goal right now is just to have a very good season, stay healthy,” Abreu said. “Once the season ends, I will have to make a decision and see if I want to continue or if there's a chance to be here or if there's a chance to be in another place. We'll see once the season ends.”