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Counting down 2014’s biggest Chicago sports stories: No. 8

The Sun-Times is counting down the 10 biggest Chicago sports stories of the 2014 calendar year one day at a time.

No. 8: Jose Abreu takes Major League Baseball by storm, wins AL Rookie of the Year

There wasn’t much to cheer about at Major League Baseball parks in Chicago this season.

But even in a less-than-thrilling baseball year, White Sox rookie Jose Abreu provided more than his fair share of thrills. He posted a .317/.383/.581 slash line and slugged 36 homers to go with 107 RBIs on the way to winning the American League Rookie of the Year award.

The 27-year-old Cuban defector also finished fourth in the AL MVP vote.

Remember what folks were saying when Abreu signed his six-year, $68 million contract after the 2013 season? Skeptics — not incorrectly — questioned the White Sox signing.

Abreu’s contract was the largest for any international free agent. And, in financial terms, it was the biggest deal ever handed out by the White Sox.

Here’s what ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote on Oct. 18, 2013:

And the reality is that Abreu is not regarded by rival evaluators as anything close to a sure thing; the White Sox are seeing something in Abreu that other teams are not. Some scouts wonder whether Abreu has the bat speed necessary to be an impact player in the big leagues, or even an average player. The Houston Astros were aggressive in trying to sign Abreu, and they fell far short, bidding $55 million; the Red Sox were outbid by a whopping $28 million, having offered about $40 million. With the Puig and Cespedes signings, there is some positional flexibility, because both were regarded as players who could play any of the three outfield spots. Abreu is a first baseman who is thought destined to be, in the eyes of some scouts, a designated hitter.

[snip]

This is either going to be a tremendous, aggressive signing or a historic bust.

So far, anyway, the former is holding true for Abreu.

Take a look at some of the other free-agent contracts passed out to players last year:

>>Robinson Cano: 10 years, $240 million

>>Carlos Beltran: 3 years, $45 million

>>Jacoby Ellsbury: 7 years, $153 million

>>Shin-Soo Choo: 7 years, $130 million

>>Curtis Granderson: 4 years, $60 million

Abreu, you could argue, is the reason the White Sox have accelerated their timetable and been so aggressive this offseason. General manager Rick Hahn knows what he has in Abreu, not to mention Chris Sale, and went about finding complementary pieces to surround them with for the short-term.

Abreu, a unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year, was the first White Sox player to win the award since Ozzie Guillen in 1985.

Here’s more on Abreu’s huge season:

He was the first rookie in history to rank among the top five in his league in the Triple Crown categories and he joined Hal Trosky (1934), Ted Williams (1939) and Albert Pujols (2001) as the only rookies with 30 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBI in a season.

Abreu’s 36 home runs set a franchise rookie record and his 107 RBIs were the third-highest total by a Sox rookie behind Smead Jolley (114 in 1930) and Zeke Bonura (110 in 1934).

Abreu is the sixth White Sox to win the BBWAA Rookie of the Year honor, joining Guillen, Ron Kittle (1983), Tommie Agee (1966), Gary Peters (1963) and Luis Aparicio (1956).

The countdown continues Tuesday. Here’s what the top 10 looks like so far:

1. Revealed Dec. 31

2. Revealed Dec. 30

3. Revealed Dec. 29

4. Revealed Dec. 26

5. Revealed Dec. 25

6. Revealed Dec. 24

7. Revealed Dec. 23

8. Jose Abreu takes Major League Baseball by storm, wins AL Rookie of the Year

9. Blackhawks’ playoff run reaches Western Conference Finals; Kane, Toews sign 8-year extensions

10. National Labor Relations Board says Northwestern football players are employees, orders union election