If you raised an eyebrow when the White Sox shelled out $50 million for three more years of Jose Abreu, doubt no more.
Abreu, at 33, is showing no signs of a career drop-off. To the contrary, he just finished the best week of his career and looked good doing it. At 240 pounds — he played at 268 his first season in 2014 after coming over from Cuba — Abreu looks trim and highly motivated, crushing the ball to all fields and over outfield walls at great distances.
Six homers over the weekend against the Cubs, including a franchise-record four in a row Saturday and Sunday, capped a week in which Abreu produced a .533/.563/1.333 slash line with seven home runs, three doubles, nine runs and 13 RBI in seven games.
On Monday, it came as no surprise that Abreu was named American League Player of the Week. Take notice, Chicago, Sox manager Rick Renteria said Sunday.
“He is one of the most underrated guys in Chicago,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘He shouldn’t be. He has earned -everything he gets.”
It seems Abreu might have heard of whatever misgivings were there about devoting a large chunk of the payroll to a first baseman approaching his mid-30s who’s not known for his defense. The common theme was that Abreu’s leadership qualities justified the big money.
“I was a little emotional [Saturday] because people say a lot of things about you, people who doubt you or maybe don’t believe in you,” Abreu said Saturday. “I’m just proving them wrong. Sometimes it gets to you. Today was one of those moments.”
Abreu is earning his pay on the numbers alone, which have put him in the AL Most Valuable Player discussion near the midpoint of this short 60-game season. He has 11 homers, 28 RBI and 79 total bases to go with a .322/.365/.669 slash line and 1.035 OPS.
In his first six seasons, Abreu posted these home-run and RBI totals: 36-107, 30-101, 25-100, 33-102, 22-78, 33-123, the one outlier is because he was limited to 128 games in 2018 with two unusual health issues.
“A lot of respect,” said the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, the first baseman on the other side of town. “He does it every single year, year in and year out.”
To ensure it continues, Abreu has improved his diet and fitness regimen since coming from Cuba, and he made it a goal at the end of last season to come to camp at 240 pounds and stay there.
“I feel good being at 240,” he said.
He also feels good having hitters around him in a lineup that was tied for second in the majors in home runs and leading in slugging percentage through Sunday. The additions of Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnacion to supplement an offense including defending AL batting champ Tim Anderson, 2019 AL rookie home-run leader Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada alleviate Abreu’s fixation on carrying the team by himself. In years past, with no threats hitting in front of and behind him, he put it upon himself to generate the production of two middle-of-the-order hitters.
“Imagine being on the club for a lot of years and having to try to carry everything and how that might create — though he may not say it — even more added pressure to be the guy that does it all,” Renteria said. “And then when you have a lot of guys that can pick you up along that string in the lineup, it frees you up a little bit.
“He’s obviously done it, 30 homers and 100 RBI a year. He’s done it under what I consider difficult circumstances.
“Now he’s got a lot of guys supporting him in a tremendously positive fashion on the offensive side, and it just looks like a lot of fun. So I’m really happy for him. I’m glad he’s taking advantage of it.”