José Abreu didn’t have much to say about the sad state of the Chicago White Sox in his return to the South Side with the Houston Astros.
He knew better than to wake a sleeping dog.
“It kind of stinks to see what they’re going through, but it’s part of the game,” Abreu said a raindrops fell on the visitors dugout before Friday’s game. “It’s a very tough game that we all play, and I think I’ve been going through a lot more struggles than the White Sox have, and it’s part of the challenge. Got to fight through them, and try to move on.”
The Abreu homecoming Friday was delayed by rain at Guaranteed Rate Field. But he received his video tribute and a salute from appreciative Sox fans, who were denied the opportunity to say goodbye in October when Abreu asked interim manager Miguel Cairo not to play in the final regular-season game.
Abreu’s departure after nine years with the Sox was not surprising, but what has happened to him and his former team has been a head-scratcher to many. He has been one of the worst hitters in the majors after signing a three-year, $58.6 million deal with the Astros and had yet to hit a home run as of Friday. The Sox entered the weekend with the third-worst record in the majors at 13-26 after a season deemed by most as the most disappointing in recent memory.
Maybe the Sox dodged a bullet when the Astros gave Abreu a deal he couldn’t turn down. Or maybe Abreu was the lucky one to avoid being blamed for this Sox disaster.
Who knows? It’s still too early to say neither the Sox nor Abreu can recover, but they’re both trending in the wrong direction.
At least Abreu had a happy face Friday afternoon as he met with the media and talked about old times. Asked what players he missed the most, he name-dropped Chris Sale, Adam Dunn, José Quintana and Alejandro de Aza while mentioning only one current Sox.
“There were a lot of the guys that were here back in the day when I played, and a lot of the young guys, they all treated me with a lot of respect,” he said. “I can’t say anything more than that, but Eloy (Jiménez), he’s my kid.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Abreu looked as if he would spend his entire career in a White Sox uniform. He came to the Sox in 2014 in general manager Rick Hahn’s second season, eventually replacing Paul Konerko as the first baseman and a leader in the clubhouse. When Hahn began the rebuild after the 2016 season, Abreu said he wanted to stay and see it through.
When the Sox finally turned the corner in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he was named American League Most Valuable Player. The following season Abreu hit 30 home runs and drove in 117 for a team that won the AL Central and seemed on the verge of competing for championships for years to come.
Abreu’s OPS dipped only slightly last season from .831 to .824, and a short-term deal with more time at designated hitter could have worked. But the Sox desperately had to get Andrew Vaughn out of the outfield and over to first, and when the Astros made a three-year offer it was easier for Hahn to cut the cord.
It seemed prescient. Abreu was hitting .218 on Friday with no homers and a .525 OPS.
Astros manager Dusty Baker was glad to have Abreu join the defending world champions and believes he’ll come around and start hitting like his old self. “Home runs usually come in bunches,” he still likes to say after all these years. Abreu didn’t seem worried about the seasonlong slump.
“The only thing I’m looking for is people respect me the same way I respect them and just play the game the right way,” Abreu said. “If I work hard, things will turn around.”
Baker doesn’t blame Abreu’s struggles on trying to live up to the contract.
“He’s used to performing and performing well,” Baker said. “He’s probably never struggled like this, but he works exceptionally hard and has a great attitude about things and the team. This guy is a great team guy. He’ll be all right. We’ve just got to get him rolling, and once he starts rolling there’s a lot of good stuff to come.”
Baker, 73, has been around a while, and he has seen things like this happen with talented players in new environments. When the Cubs acquired Derrek Lee from the Florida Marlins for Hee-Seop Choi in 2004, Lee hit .233 with two home runs through April. Whenever he came to the plate, Cubs fans derisively chanted “Hee-Seop Choi” to mock the trade by GM Jim Hendry.
Lee finished with 32 home runs and 98 RBIs that season and became one of the most popular Cubs players of the 2000s. Choi was out of the majors after 2005.
Whether Abreu can engineer that kind of turnaround at age 36 remains to be seen. Baker rested him Wednesday and said playing in his old home could be beneficial.
“Hopefully these surroundings will bring back some pleasant thoughts and memories,” Baker said. “The longer you’re away from pleasant thoughts and positive results, the less you tend to remember. … I’m like, ‘Hey, man, just recall those days and hopefully they’ll return.’ ”
Abreu was one of the more respected Sox players inside the clubhouse and in the stands. His absence was felt, especially in the corner of the clubhouse where he was “Papa Bear” surrounded by his three cubs, Jiménez, Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada.
“He taught us to never put your head down,” Moncada said. “No matter what, the good moments, the bad moments, just keep working hard. Try to go out and do your best. That’s how he did it, right?”
That work ethic and positive attitude were two reasons Abreu was so beloved in Chicago.
That legacy appears secure no matter how the rest of the story plays out.
Source: Berkshire mont