When the White Sox signed Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $25 million free agent contract, it was assumed he would, at the least, split time evenly between first base and designated hitter with star first baseman Jose Abreu, allowing Abreu more time at DH to rest his bothersome ankles and feet.
After all, LaRoche was a Gold Glove winner at first base in 2012 and a finalist this past season as a Washington National, and Abreu’s defense — while improved over the course of the season — is probably adequate at best.
But Abreu, who will be 28 next season, will continue to be the man at first while LaRoche, 35, spells him once or twice a week, manager Robin Ventura said after the Sox made LaRoche’s signing official Tuesday.
“He’s the first baseman,” Ventura said of Abreu. “He’s not going to play 100 percent of the time, but I think we found situations during the year where with injuries or fatigue and things like that, just because of who he is and how he has to go about his at-bats, it’s not going to be bad for him to have a few days off in there. I think that’s the same for both of them. I don’t want to take first base away from Adam, either.”
That is good news to LaRoche, who likes playing first base. A lot. But he understands that Abreu needs the time to continue improving. And it’s like Ventura said, Abreu — who finished fourth in American League MVP voting in his rookie season, — has earned the right to hold his position.
“I never even thought of the possibility,” LaRoche said of being a designated hitter after playing most of his career in the National League. “I told Robin, I would hate to come to a position somewhere where I totally give up first base because I feel like I can still be very productive on the defensive side.I said physically I still feel great. I’m not in the position yet, thankfully, where I need to be off my feet a bunch and where defense kind of affects me physically.
“Talking to him, they have a tough spot. They’ve got a kid that’s obviously going to be around and be really good for a long time. It’s not fair to make him a full-time DH this early in his career, especially when he can handle first base and handle the glove over there. I’ll do it however it plays out. If they need me to play first more than we’re talking about, great, I’ll be there. If I end up DHing more, that’s fine. I’m looking forward to hopefully being in the middle of that lineup and having a chance to drive some runs in.”
Abreu, who spent 15 days on the disabled list with posterior tibial tendinitis in his left ankle, played 109 games at first base and 35 as the DH last season. Ventura said he expects both players to welcome occasional time off. He also can take comfort knowing that if Abreu’s ankles act up again, he’ll have a more-than-ready option at first.
“If I had to guess it’d probably be Adam playing first base twice a week, and if something came up, it could be more,” Ventura said.
Said general manager Rick Hahn: “The bottom line is we expect Jose to be with us for a long period of time and to play first base for the bulk if not all of that. So he’s going to continue to get the majority of opportunities out there as his defensive skills continue to develop.”