Extend Abreu

As of this writing, tonight's White Sox starting pitcher in Houston against the high-flying Astros will be TBD. Be not alarmed. He can't be much worse than Ivan Nova was last Friday in a 10-2 loss to Toronto in which Nova lasted all of three innings on a yield of eight earned runs. If you're keeping score at home, Nova's ERA mushroomed to 7.42.

Dare we point out that in the unlikely circumstance that Nova could stick around for an entire game, pitching as he does, his teammates would need to score eight or nine runs in order to win. This is not a recipe for a winning ballclub.

Of course, placing great culpability solely on Nova negates the fact that the veteran right-hander has four quality starts in nine tries, and he's even won a couple. It's just that when quality is lacking, Rick Renteria's outfit is buried even before latecomers arrive at the ballpark or turn on their televisions.

Carlos Rodon is out for the season, and his sub Manny Banuelos is sidelined with a sore left shoulder. Unfortunately - well, that's debatable since his ERA stands at 7.26 - that's the side from which Manny throws, forcing Ricky to finally consider using strictly relievers this evening in the opening of a seven-game road trip against division leaders Astros and Twins.

If only TBD stood for The Best Defense.

The White Sox are not the only team facing a deficiency of starting pitching, brought on by injuries and a dearth of talent. General manager Rick Hahn has been grasping at straws in the past couple of weeks by signing free agents like Ross Detwiler and Odrisamer Despaigne, both of whom have major league experience. Granted, neither has been successful at the highest level, but there simply aren't many choices other than Dallas Keuchel, and, so far, no one's bitten the bait.

The team's 21-24 record clearly indicates progress. However, the situation with starting pitching could signal rough seas ahead.

One move Hahn could make has nothing to do with pitching, but would provide security for the future, giving fans increased reason for optimism that the club is all in. That would be signing first baseman Jose Abreu to an extension.

The big fellow has been somewhat streaky thus far in 2019, but overall he remains the team's biggest run-producer with 38 RBIs, good for a tie for second in the American League. His 10 homers lead the Sox. After 18 games, Abreu was hitting .174, but then he went on a tear, raising his average to .282. Jose has cooled off a bit but remains at a respectable .260/.320/.817.

The arguments for extending Abreu are plentiful, including the fact that there is no heir apparent in the Sox system who could be Abreu's replacement at first base. Abreu is the only first baseman mentioned in the top 15 free-agents-to-be by MLB.com, meaning that if Abreu goes elsewhere, finding a legitimate replacement via free agency isn't going to happen.

Abreu keeps saying that he wants to remain with the White Sox. Hahn continues to remind us that not only does Abreu work hard to set a positive example for the younger players, but he's a team leader, a mentor for everyone in the Sox clubhouse, and not just the Latin players. Nary a negative word has been uttered about the Cuban since he's improved his defense at first base.

The $68 million the team committed to Abreu in 2014 goes down as one of the finest agreements in team history. Abreu came from meager means in Cienfuegos, Cuba, where he began playing for the local Elephantes when he was just 16. In 10 seasons in Cuba's Serie A Nacional League, the highest classification in the country, he tore up the place, slashing .341/.456/1.078. One season he hit .453.

Abreu has always been close-mouthed about his defection from Cuba, but just as often he's expressed his appreciation of playing in the major leagues, in Chicago, and for the millions he's being paid. He doesn't appear to be the kind of human being who has to be mentioned in the same category as the game's highest-paid players. It's seems inconceivable that Abreu would enter the free agent market, holding out for the biggest payday available. He's humble. He understands from whence he's come.

Furthermore, aside from last season, he wants to play every day regardless of injury. Last season was the only occasion he was shelved for any length of time, and it had nothing to do with an on-field injury. He suffered from a testicular torsion which required surgery. Don't bother googling it. Take my word. If you are of the male variety, you don't want this.

Abreu will be 33-years-old next season. For position players, Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko stand out as the franchise's top stars of this century. Thomas played 19 seasons, retiring when he was 40. Konerko's last year was 2014, his 18th season, when he was 38.
At age 35 in 2003, the Big Hurt slugged 42 homers and drove home 105 runs. In four seasons between the ages of 33 and 36, Konerko averaged 31 home runs and 95 RBIs, leading one to believe that someone with Abreu's talent, conditioning and past performance could follow in the footsteps of his predecessors.

If Abreu continues on his present pace this season, his six-year averages would be 32 home runs, 108 RBIs, and a slash line of .293/.351/.866. Compare that to Konerko's .270/.355/.852 with 31 dingers and 95 RBIs.

The Cardinals gave first baseman Paul Goldschmidt a five-year, $130 million gold mine prior to this season. Goldschmidt, not incidentally, is just a year younger than Abreu, and his power numbers for four seasons are very similar to his at 32 home runs and 102 RBIs.

Extensions are all the rage these days. The game's best players like Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Justin Verlander and Chris Sale all signed on with their present teams earlier this year. What's Hahn waiting for? Chances are he can get Abreu wrapped for fewer dollars and years than Goldschmidt, but Abreu deserves to be compensated for what he's accomplished and what the future holds. Besides, looking back, the Sox certainly know that Abreu's original contract was a good deal for them.

If negotiations, or a lack of them, stretch out until the season ends, Abreu should be an attractive target for a number of teams seeking a power-hitting first baseman who figures to continue to produce. Imagine putting him in the middle of the Red Sox lineup with the inviting Green Monster sitting so close to home plate.

Letting the situation get that far would be foolish for Hahn. It's time for him to move. Ensuring Abreu's presence on the South Side for the foreseeable future makes all kinds of sense. If and when that happens, we can stomach a few more games of TBD pitching for the White Sox.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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