FIELD DAY FOR JOSE?

Ex­pect Abreu to be pen­ciled in at DH more with ad­di­tion of Alonso

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN dvan­[email protected]­times.com | @CST_­sox­van

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.’’

ROB CARR/GETTY IM­AGES

In five sea­sons with the Sox, Jose Abreu has shown a clear pref­er­ence to play first base rather than be the des­ig­nated hit­ter.

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