Jose Abreu must be mellowing with age.
Entering the final year of his six-year contract, in his age-32 season, Abreu’s grip on first base seems to be easing.
He kept a tight hold when the Sox signed Adam LaRoche, a better defensive first baseman, before the 2015 season. A Gold Glove winner with the Nationals in 2012, LaRoche played in only 48 games at first in 2015 mainly because the incumbent didn’t want to budge.
Abreu always has made clear his disdain for being the designated hitter. And as a two-time All-Star (and the only Sox listed as a top-10 player at his position by MLB Network) who never wants a day off, Abreu deserves to be heard on the matter. In his view, he doesn’t fully earn the six-year, $68 million contract he signed Oct. 29, 2013, if he isn’t contributing defensively.
But when the Sox traded for first baseman Yonder Alonso on Dec. 15, a similar scenario to LaRoche’s arrival came with him. While Abreu’s defense has improved over the years, Alonso is probably the better choice defensively, and the Sox might be better served with Abreu getting more starts at DH.
General manager Rick Hahn and manager Rick Renteria said Abreu would be better served getting off his feet more frequently. And Abreu, who takes more than his share of beatings from foul balls off his lower extremities, sounds like he would be agreeable.
“If I’m playing first base or DH, or he’s playing first base or DH, it doesn’t matter,’’ Abreu said through a translator at SoxFest. “What matters is how we can make the team better.’’
Said Hahn: “Jose just wants us to win. He also knows there is benefit from getting off his feet.”
Alonso, a fellow Cuban, has talked to Abreu since the trade, building a bond and reinforcing their mutual respect. They’ll get to work together soon, with spring training starting this week in Arizona.
“He brings a lot of good energy to a team, he knows how to play the game and he has been around the league for a very long time,’’ Abreu said. “He’s going to help us a lot.’’
Perhaps Alonso can help Abreu avoid pulling off an unwanted feat: finishing in fourth place in the five-team American League Central in all six of his seasons with the Sox. The Sox are 356-454 with Abreu, their best year coming in 2016 (78-84).
Just when the rebuilding Sox are expected to win — pitcher Michael Kopech said at SoxFest that the goal is to win the World -Series in 2020 — Abreu won’t be around unless he signs an extension.
“I’m just glad to still be a part of the White Sox organization,’’ Abreu said at SoxFest when asked about this possibly being his -final season in Chicago. “My mind is on this season. I don’t want to think about what’s going to be after the season.’’
Always the good soldier, Abreu did his part to bring free agent Manny Machado to a team he might not be with much longer by meeting with him in December.
“I just tried to let him know how great this organization is, how much pride we take in baseball and in the community,’’ Abreu said. “If it was up to me, I would try to sign him. I’m just hoping for the best for him, and if he wants to sign with us, I’d be one of the most excited guys.”
Almost as excited as seeing his own signature on a new Sox contract.
“I’m a White Sox, everybody knows how much pride I have to wear this uniform,’’ he said. “And I’m ready for whatever’s going to happen.’’