Prior to the 2022 season, White Sox first baseman José Abreu was uncharacteristically ambivalent when asked about his plans for 2023 and beyond. Abreu, now in his age thirty-five season, has had a very successful nine-year run in Chicago with accolades that include the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year award, 2020 AL MVP award, multiple Silver Slugger awards, multiple all-star appearances, and league-wide respect as one of the game’s best hitters and leaders.
The glaring omission from Abreu’s career highlights is playoff success. Given the underwhelming season to date for the White Sox and Abreu’s uncertain future, the odds of him enjoying playoff victories for the 2022 White Sox are lowering weekly. For a player as respected and committed to winning as Abreu, this presents a quandary that neither he nor the White Sox may want to admit exists.
Despite his age, José Abreu is having one of the best seasons of his career so far. He is hitting .291/.379/.462 with an .841 OPS, 144 wRC+, and .369 wOBA. The .379 on-base percentage is just four points off his career-high (.383, 2014), and if not for particularly bad luck in April, Abreu (.423 xwOBA overall, top-ten in baseball) might be having the best season of a career that includes an MVP award. While his power numbers have been merely good rather than the usual great, Abreu has a career-high walk rate and career-low strikeout rate — incredible feats for a thirty-five-year-old player who was already an elite hitter to begin with.
Clearly, Abreu is doing his part in 2022. Unfortunately, the White Sox as a whole have disappointed, and while there is still time to turn things around, the organization has to seriously consider the possibility that the team might miss the playoffs. As Abreu has stated that he wishes to finish the season before consulting with his family to decide on his future, his impressive production in 2022 may not necessarily preclude him from retiring if he no longer feels motivated to maintain his prodigious work ethic throughout another long, taxing season.
The dilemma, then, is that José Abreu deserves better than a final season spent playing for a team that misses the playoffs despite his terrific production. Whether or not this is actually his final season is yet to be determined, but there clearly is a chance. The mutual respect between Abreu and the White Sox organization is palpable, and his loyalty makes any sort of trade unlikely. If the White Sox, however, do not go on a sustained winning streak prior to the early August trade deadline, the front office should approach Abreu to at least ask if he would like to be traded to a World Series contender.
This would be a very tough situation for Abreu; not only is he not yet sure whether this will be his final season, but he also cannot predict how other teams’ seasons will fare. He could say he prefers a trade if perhaps his passion for winning understandably outweighs his loyalty to Chicago. But even afterward, the White Sox could catch fire in baseball’s worst division and make the playoffs anyway. The team that acquires him, too, may not perform at expected levels.
Contending teams with a need at first base might include the Astros, Red Sox, Rays, and Padres. If Abreu gets traded to any of these teams only to lose in the playoffs, would he and the White Sox see the move as worth it in retrospect? These questions are difficult to consider, as is the mere thought of Abreu playing for another team. Nevertheless, should the season continue on this trajectory, the White Sox owe it to Abreu to at least ask if the risk of this potentially being his final season is real enough to consider giving him a chance to win elsewhere.
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