By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Bienvenido was spelled out in large white placards over the White Sox dugout as the newest prized prospect took to the South Side. Cuban flags were hoisted around Guaranteed Rate Field on Saturday afternoon.
Luis Robert received a warm welcome to his new home, having signed a $26-million deal to become the latest phenom to join a thriving White Sox rebuild. He walked out to the mound prior to Saturday’s doubleheader with the Tigers and received an ovation, then gunned the ceremonial first pitch to fellow Cuban Jose Abreu.
Abreu was among those eager to greet the 19-year-old Robert as he was introduced to the White Sox on Saturday morning. They spent time together and posed for pictures as a pair of Cubans carrying on a legacy in Chicago that started with Minnie Minoso.
Back in 2014, it was Abreu arriving in Chicago as the coveted addition from Cuba. He was set to turn 27, big league-ready and poised to make his mark with the White Sox. The team awarded him a six-year, $68-million deal and made him the highest-paid player in franchise history. The deal was worked by agent Barry Praver, who negotiated on behalf of Robert as well.
Saturday saw the White Sox unveil Robert with a Cuban theme. There were banners of Minoso, Abreu, Yoan Moncada and Alexei Ramirez flanking the table at which general manager Rick Hahn presented his new addition. Players were even treated to Cuban cuisine in the clubhouse.
But the rebuilding White Sox may be better served without their Cuban star of the present in Abreu, who could return a bevy of prospects this summer.
A terrific teammate, Abreu would be sure to have an important presence alongside Robert in the White Sox clubhouse, but that shouldn’t mean much when considering his value to the organization.
Now 30, Abreu continues to produce at the plate. He’s hitting .299 and has an OPS of .876 after Saturday’s first game, one in which he added an insurance run with an RBI single off a broken bat.
Abreu has knocked in at least 100 runs during each of his first three seasons and surpassed the century mark in home runs this past week, presently standing at 101 in 504 career games. While Abreu has always been a liability in defensively, his impact at the plate is what defines the impressive first baseman.
One certainty is that a trade of Abreu wouldn’t be forced. The White Sox must get a considerable return for a player still crushing baseballs in his prime, but it’s well worth the phone calls.
With the trade deadline just two months away, Hahn will be busy working the phones. Left-hander Jose Quintana expects to be one of the top trade pieces available, even despite his struggles this season. Third baseman Todd Frazier and closer David Robertson also expect to be names linked to deals and could bring back more prospects.
The White Sox must weigh their possibilities with Abreu. Evaluations begin with what he has left, and one could presume at least three — maybe as many as six — more years of steady production. He certainly hasn’t slowed down on this side of 30, and his prime projects to coincide with the years of contention for this club.
If Hahn is confident enough in what’s to come, then Abreu should stay with the White Sox. But if there’s any doubt, trade possibilities should be explored.
The first phone call for Hahn should be to the Astros, baseball’s best team thus far. Houston hasn’t gotten much production from Yuli Gurriel and could use a big bat like that of Abreu. Perhaps he could even be packaged with Quintana in a blockbuster that adds more prospects to the White Sox.
Primary focus for Hahn should be on dealing Quintana, who could return a major haul. The framework could resemble that of the Chris Sale trade with Boston that brought Moncada, Michael Kopech and two other prospects to Chicago. Other veterans can be sold off for prospects, too.
But Hahn must also decide whether Abreu’s value is a better asset for years of contention or a deadline deal. That’s a difficult call, especially for a player so productive during his young career. The price would certainly have to be right for a deal.
One way or another, Abreu’s impact will be felt when Robert and Moncada hope to be driving a contending team.