By Bruce Levine–
GLENDALE, Ariz (670 The Score) — If you watch the way the White Sox clubhouse works, it’s easy to observe the migration of young players following two veterans.
For White Sox pitchers, the cathedral of fun and knowledge usually is at James Shields’ locker. The rest of the position players mostly pay homage to Jose Abreu and his consistency, both on and off the field. Abreu has been the face of the White Sox for four years now.
Entering his fifth campaign as the White Sox first baseman, Abreu has had a strong impact on the young players who have begun to come through the minor league system and new teammates as well.
The turning point for Abreu as a complete player came last June. Though he was hitting the ball with authority, his defensive play had been brutal. Abreu’s footwork and anticipation for plays were below average. A conversation with manager Rick Renteria turned him around.
Renteria told Abreu he was going to be a fine designated hitter. Abreu responded by insisting he was the team’s first baseman. Renteria countered by telling Abreu he would only stay at the position if he worked harder to improve his defense. From that moment, Abreu put in the extra time with infield instructor Joe McEwing on defensive readiness and footwork. The transition was quite apparent in the second half of the season. A well-rounded star was born.
Offseason speculation had teams inquiring about Abreu and his availability via trade. The rumors started last June when the White Sox were continuing a massive restructuring. Chicago traded eight veterans for a stream of young talent over a six-week period. Left standing among the more experienced players on the 25-man roster were Shields, Abreu and outfielder Avisail Garcia.
Shields wasn’t in demand considered untradeable due to poor performance, injury and a hefty contract. Abreu and Garcia were attractive pieces who remain important players for either the White Sox or a contending club.
Many conversations among the White Sox brass internally took place about dealing the 31- year-old Abreu, but the consensus opinion was that he was too valuable to trade.
With two years of contract control left on the Abreu contract, an extension would make the most sense for both sides. If he’s the leader who will help the organization turn the corner on the rebuild, a five-year contract add-on would make a strong statement for all involved.
Needless to say, the two sides aren’t talking contract at this point. No urgency is detected from Abreu, who will make $13 million in 2018.
Taking his leadership role seriously, Abreu has lost 10 pounds in the offseason and is prepared to be a mentor and friend to the great talent coming through the White Sox system.
“The three keys to working that I let them know is discipline, work hard and always be on time,” Abreu said Sunday. “If you use those three keys, you have a chance to be good. Those are the things I try to teach to new kids, the young guys.”
Renteria wants Abreu around for numerous reasons. Another year of 30 home runs and 100 RBI may be good enough.
“His work ethic alone speaks volumes to the guys,” Renteria said about Abreu’s leadership skills. “He has conversations to keep them loose. With him, it is more leadership by example. We are very happy he is still a White Sox player. We hope he continues to be one moving forward. He brings a lot to the table and we are going to take advantage of it.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.