When the 2022 season began, it was full of hope and expectations for the Chicago White Sox. Fast forward to the beginning of October and the South-Siders have been eliminated from playoff contention. The biggest question for the White Sox offseason will be what to do with Jose Abreu, who Chicago fans undoubtedly notice Jose Abreu does not have a contract for the 2023 season.
While Abreu was still very productive for the White Sox in 2022, the power numbers were down and the team clearly underperformed. So what caused White Sox struggles, and more importantly what needs to change for the White Sox to contend in 2023?
The Face of the Franchise
The 2020 America League MVP had another productive season for the 2022 Chicago White Sox and should finish the season with a batting average among AL leaders over .300. Abreu will likely finish the season in the top 5 for hits as well. While hits are always a good thing in baseball, diving a bit deeper into Abreu’s 2022 stats show what we all are already aware of, Abreu is declining. Abreu had career lows in three major categories for sluggers in 2022. Abreu has hit just 15 home runs, driven in 75 runs, and ranks outside the top 50 with a slugging percentage of just .444.
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The days of Abreu being touted as the White Sox leader and a mentor have gone by the wayside for many as pupils of Abreu such as Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, and Luis Robert have all underperformed their lofty expectations with the Sox. Robert and Jiminez probably still have time to produce and reach some level of competency with respect to their expectations when joining the White Sox organization. I am still weary of calling Moncada a complete bust as he plays a really decent third base most of the time. If he can find a way to even be a competent hitter from each side of the plate he has time to reconcile some form of a decent career.
While on-field individual performance has never really been an issue for Jose Abreu, he was tasked with leading this team. A leader is expected to pick guys up when they are down and control things like hustle and effort while also making sure guys take care of themselves off the field as well. While these guys are professional athletes and should hold themselves accountable, this clearly was not the case. When questions about hustle and effort arise teams typically have a leader who is willing to be vocal, get on guys, and hold them accountable. Maybe Jose Abreu did, but whatever happened in that clubhouse did not translate to the field.
Replacing Abreu’s Production
While a decline is expected at this stage of most MLB careers, it cannot and should not be accepted or rewarded with a new contract for a team claiming to have championship aspirations. Given the team’s current roster construction, there just may not be room for an aging but productive Abreu if they intend on competing in 2023. One big question facing the White Sox offseason will be finding a replacement for Abreu’s bat.
Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets are both first basemen who have been forced into duty in the outfield due to the front office’s failures in bringing in at least one true starting caliber outfielder to fill the void that is right field at 35th and Shields. While Vaughn and Sheets have given their best efforts, they are just not good enough defensively to support them continuing to be played out of position.
One could make a case that Vaughn’s bat needs to be in the lineup regardless of defensive positioning. Vaughn has tremendous upside offensively and it remains to be seen what kind of defender he can be when played at his natural first base position. Sheets provides less upside than Vaughn as a hitter but is a lefty bat, something sorely needed by this White Sox team. Regardless of which side of the plate they hit from, neither of these two are regular starting outfielders and at times this season, it has cost the Sox dearly.
White Sox Offseason Outlook
Moving forward in 2023 and beyond the Sox will have to ruffle some feathers with their loyal fan base. Some will hate the idea of moving on from Abreu and some will surprisingly support it. It makes too much sense with where the Sox are to not move on from Abreu. Not to mention, Jose has done enough for this franchise to give him a legitimate opportunity to win a World Series. The move would be a change in history from the White Sox as they have proven to be loyal to a fault with players and management alike in the past.
This morning Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY gave us an update on what the White Sox may look like heading into 2023.
While moving on from La Russa may or may not have been a baseball decision by the White Sox, moving on from Abreu will not be as welcomed by Sox fans. Much like their front office, the fan base can be loyal to players as well. We all wanted to see Jose Abreu have the ultimate success on the Southside but it may be too late for that. The move to hire La Russa in the first place may have sealed Jose Abreu’s fate in Chicago.
It may already be too late to save the rebuild on the southside beginning with the Chris Sale trade, but if the front office remains intact for 2023, they have a chance to salvage something out of it. We should learn relatively quickly after the regular season ends which direction Chicago will go and who will be the White Sox free agent targets.
Who do you think will be the main priorities of the White Sox offseason? Where do you think Jose Abreu will play next year? Let us know in the comments below!
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images