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With LaRoche on board, Abreu will benefit

MLB.com @philgrogers

Jose Abreu had a great first season in North America, winning American League Rookie of the Year Award honors. He's likely to be an even more impressive hitter for the White Sox next season.

Abreu just might make an even stronger run to win the AL MVP Award than he did last season, when he finished fourth. One way or another, he'll thank general manager Rick Hahn for giving him the gift of Adam LaRoche.

Jose Abreu had a great first season in North America, winning American League Rookie of the Year Award honors. He's likely to be an even more impressive hitter for the White Sox next season.

Abreu just might make an even stronger run to win the AL MVP Award than he did last season, when he finished fourth. One way or another, he'll thank general manager Rick Hahn for giving him the gift of Adam LaRoche.

According to multiple reports, the Sox have agreed to a two-year, $25 million contract with the left-handed-hitting LaRoche, who apparently will split first base and the DH spot with the right-handed-hitting Abreu.

While Abreu hit 10 home runs last April, if you watched closely, you saw a big, excited kid who was struggling to slow down the game as played in the Major Leagues. He had always been a smart, patient hitter in Cuba and international events, refusing to expand the strike zone. But Abreu swung at a lot of bad pitches early last season, which was why he was hitting .260 and striking out once every 3.5 at-bats at the end of May.

While Abreu's power numbers weren't as impressive late in the season -- seven homers in 234 at-bats after the All-Star Game, after 29 in 322 ABs to earn his spot in Minneapolis -- his hitting got better and better as he calmed down and settled in. He rallied to hit .317, with a .342 average and strikeouts only once every 6.9 at-bats from June 1 until season's end.

So much for pitchers adjusting to Abreu.

Abreu didn't have much protection in the lineup, either. Manager Robin Ventura moved Abreu in and out of the third and fourth spots of the lineup depending on matchups. Conor Gillaspie -- a good hitter for average, but without much power -- actually got 161 at-bats in the No. 3 spot. So Abreu pumped up the totals for White Sox cleanup hitters, but once you subtract his 122 at-bats there, you get to the heart of a situation that Hahn knew he had to address.

With Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo getting the most time there, the No. 4 hitters other than Abreu combined to hit .227, although they did have 23 home runs. It seemed smart to work around Abreu to get to the next guy.

That's going to be a lot harder to do next season.

LaRoche fills the hole that steadily opened as the now-retired Paul Konerko and Dunn, traded to Oakland last August, became less and less productive. Only once in the last six years have the White Sox had two hitters with 90-plus RBIs, and Dunn batted only .204 when he and Alex Rios did it in 2012.

Abreu and LaRoche should give the Sox the type of all-around hitting in the middle of the lineup they had in 2008, their last trip to the postseason. But, yes, a lot of people thought that Dunn and Konerko would be that type of tandem when the White Sox signed Dunn to a four-year contract before the 2011 season.

Video: WSH@LAD: LaRoche plates five runs in win

Here's a possibly alarming fact about LaRoche. At 35, he's actually older than Dunn -- by three days, to be exact. So there's some risk.

But ask the Nationals and their fans about LaRoche. They'll tell you that even though the club declined its half of a mutual contract option for next season, making LaRoche a free agent, it pains the Nats that he won't be back. LaRoche was one of the two or three most productive hitters in Matt Williams' lineup last season, when he hit .259 with 26 homers, 82 walks and 92 RBIs.

There was no way to keep LaRoche, with Ryan Zimmerman owed $76 million over the next five years and no longer able to play anywhere but first base because of chronic shoulder problems, plus the ascension of National League Silver Slugger Award-winning third baseman Anthony Rendon. The Nationals have to be happy that LaRoche is going to an AL team and not the Marlins, who had been pursuing him.

Defensive metrics favor LaRoche (0 defensive runs saved) over Abreu (-11) as a first baseman, but the White Sox won't want to make Abreu a DH-only player at this stage of his career. Ventura will have to figure out a time-share situation that keeps them both in the lineup. Shouldn't be hard to do.

Having previously signed Zach Duke to fill a need in the bullpen, Hahn is off to a nice start in working to make his 73-win team in 2014 into a contender in 2015. Avisail Garcia, healthy after playing only 46 games last season, and rookie left-hander Carlos Rodon are as intriguing as the newcomers.

The biggest question for Hahn yet to answer is whether Alexei Ramirez will be back for an eighth year at shortstop. He's been the subject of talks with the Dodgers and other teams -- likely the Mets and Yankees -- and the White Sox have a talented shortstop coming in Tim Anderson.

As far as a bridge to Anderson, they're not exactly hurting there either. They have three Triple-A shortstops on the 40-man roster in Tyler Saladino, Carlos Sanchez and Marcus Semien (who was the Southern League MVP in 2013). Don't be surprised if Hahn has a big trade in him at some point this winter.

It probably won't be for a middle-of-the-order hitter. Abreu and LaRoche have that covered.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Chicago White Sox, Adam LaRoche