After six seasons of drought, White Sox’ Jose Abreu ready to guzzle victories
If there’s anybody who deserves to experience winning, it’s the sweet-swinging first baseman.
Jose Abreu is here to win baseball games. He has always been here for that. The money is very nice. So are the individual accomplishments. But none of it answers the need, the insistent need, to win.
If victories are sustenance, he’s been living in a food desert.
Six seasons as a big-league player, six seasons as a White Sox and six straight seasons without a winning record. The man can tell you a thing or two about pain.
And yet …
“You know, we weren’t born to lose,’’ Abreu said through an interpreter Friday at SoxFest. “But we know that losing is part of the game. In this process, we were aware the cost that we had to pay to get to this point. We learned a lot from all those losses, from all those years, and I think all those lessons are going to make us better for this year and for the future, too.’’
That’s 543 hard lessons learned over six seasons, and if there’s anybody who deserves to experience winning, it’s Abreu. The Sox were smart enough and (hopefully) good-hearted enough to sign the first baseman to a three-year, $50 million contract in November. Smart enough because this is a guy who has been consistently excellent from the moment he arrived in Chicago in 2014. And good-hearted enough because, c’mon, it would have been cruel to cast off someone who had been through baseball hell just when baseball heaven seemed to be beckoning.
A team that went 72-89 last season believes it has a chance for the playoffs this season. Manager Rick Renteria already has said publicly that that’s the goal. This offseason, the Sox have added 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, 2019 All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal and power hitter Edwin Encarnacion. Those players are joining a stream of talent that has broken through parched earth on the South Side. That includes shortstop Tim Anderson, last season’s American League batting champion; third baseman Yoan Moncada (.315 average, 25 home runs) and left fielder Eloy Jimenez (31 homers). Soon enough, that will mean hot-shot prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal.
They’ll join Abreu, who, if you haven’t caught on yet, is ready to win after living through the Sox’ rebuild. Very, very ready to win. He turns 33 on Wednesday, and although he’s coming off an excellent season (33 home runs, a league-leading 123 runs batted in and a .284 average), it’s not as if he has all the time in the world. So, winning? Yeah, now would be good.
“All the transactions the team made during the offseason I think put us in a very good spot for the season, and we have to be conscious and work hard,’’ he said. “Because it’s not just the names that we have. We have to prove that we have the talent to be a good team. I’m excited because I know most of the guys that are here now. I’m very confident. I trust the work that we’ve been doing the last couple years. This year, all the effort, all that work is going to pan out.’’
Besides Abreu’s ability to hit a baseball hard, the Sox like the way he takes young players under his wing. That played a role in their decision to re-sign him. It came as no surprise Friday to learn that he already was counseling the 22-year-old Robert and the 24-year-old Moncada to concentrate on short-term goals, not the playoffs. He says the task at hand, whatever it be at any given moment, is the only task that matters.
“That’s been my message for the guys in these few days and that’s going to be my message for spring training and for the season,’’ he said. “For the people like me who aren’t as young as the other guys, I feel we have the experience to manage that and we have the strength to guide this team and the young guys.’’
Robert, a fellow Cuban, is listening. Things have come incredibly easy for the kid, who mastered three minor-league levels last season, hitting a combined .328 with 32 homers and 92 runs batted in. It’d be easy for him to think that everything is going to be this easy. If Robert thinks that, he will not be thinking it on Abreu’s watch. And he knows it.
“On and off the field, he’s a guy who can guide me,’’ Robert said. “He can make me better just with his experience and just the way that he takes care of his business. He’s going to be a very good influence on my life and with this team, too.’’
Abreu is happy to be in the position to help. He’s even happier to be in a position to win. All that losing, and now this. The new contract lets him stay in Chicago for any high times that might present themselves the next three seasons.
“I think that’s just a reward for all the work and all the commitment that I have with this team,’’ he said. “It’s part of the loyalty, from myself to the team and from the team to me. I’m very loyal to the White Sox and to (chairman Jerry Reinsdorf), and I think our relationship is strong, and that’s why I’m here talking to you guys. I think these years are going to be a good fit. We’re going to bring a lot of joy and happiness to this town.’’