State of the White Sox: First base


The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

First up is first base.

What happened in 2019

Jose Abreu was Jose Abreu.

The face of the franchise, this generation’s “Mr. White Sox,” was his typically productive self. In fact, he had one of the more productive seasons of his six-year big league career, capturing the American League RBI crown with a career-best 123 runs driven in and coming three homers shy of a career best in that category, too, finishing with 33 dingers to lead the team.

Abreu went to his third All-Star Game, his second straight, and he could wind up with back-to-back Silver Sluggers when those get handed out later. Many fretted about dips in his rate stats, and his .284 average and .330 on-base percentage were the second lowest of his career, only ahead of the numbers from last year’s injury-shortened season. He set a new career high with 152 strikeouts, compared to 36 walks.

But in the end, Abreu was as productive as any White Sox player, and despite his 32 years of age, he showed no signs of dropping off from the consistently high level of production he displayed throughout his first half dozen seasons in the big leagues.

And all along the way he continued to serve as an off-the-field example to the team’s younger players, a leader and a role model, as well as a mentor to Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez, the latter comparing him to a father earlier in the season. Abreu played in all but two of the White Sox 161 games, even with the plan to keep him off his feet by platooning him at first base and DH, which fell apart when Yonder Alonso disappointed.

What will happen this offseason

Abreu is slated to hit free agency for the first time since arriving on the South Side from Cuba ahead of the 2014 season.

While in a vacuum he would figure to have tons of suitors, given how productive he’s been, he’s spent the entire 2019 season talking about how much he wants to remain a part of the White Sox organization and how excited he is to see the long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending. He’s gone as far as saying, repeatedly, that if the White Sox don’t re-sign him, he’ll sign himself to a contract and play here anyway.

The team has responded in kind, with Abreu revealing that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told him that he’ll never play in another uniform. That coupled with the unending comments from team brass and teammates about how much he means to the club, and it has long seemed a foregone conclusion that Abreu will be back with the White Sox for 2020.

General manager Rick Hahn had this to say during his end-of-season press conference Friday:

“I don’t think they are going to be teaching this in negotiation classes in college any time soon how this one is unfolding,” he said. “But my takeaway from all that is that there’s a strong desire on both sides to figure out a way to keep Jose in a White Sox uniform beyond this year.

“I don’t know quite the path it’s going to follow with Jose just yet, but more often than not when there’s that mutual desire to figure out a way to get something done, you wind up getting something done.”

In the wake of the season finale Sunday, Abreu reiterated that he believes he'll be playing for the White Sox next season.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

Abreu sure seems to be the guy entrenched at first base in 2020. And if that’s the case, that’s nothing but good news for the White Sox, who can keep his bat in the middle of the lineup, surrounding him with Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and eventually Luis Robert — not to mention any bats they might add this winter. Abreu, Jimenez, Moncada and Anderson showed how dangerous a middle of the order they can be in September, combining to slash .353/.400/.612 with 21 home runs, 70 RBIs and 78 runs scored.

Hahn and his front office have a designated hitter on their offseason shopping list, so it’s unlikely we’ll see another attempt at a first base/DH timeshare like we did at the beginning of 2019. Still, Zack Collins has been talked of as a potential fill-in first baseman, which could allow Abreu to shift to DH some days. His mom doesn’t like it when he doesn’t play, though, so days off aren’t really an option.

We don’t know how long an eventual Abreu contract will run, so it’s hard to project too far out, but we do know that the White Sox spent the No. 3 pick in this summer’s draft on a first baseman. Andrew Vaughn was billed as one of the best all-around hitters in that draft class, as well as the best power bat. He only made it to Class A Winston-Salem by the end of last season, but given how another advanced college bat, Nick Madrigal, flew through the system in 2019, it’s not out of the question to suggest Vaughn’s big league debut might not be too far away.

But as for 2020, expect to see Abreu back at first base, doing his same old Jose Abreu thing: being a productive face of the franchise and leader for this White Sox team.

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