Just because he darn near ripped the cover off the ball all day Monday doesn’t mean the White Sox will applaud themselves for signing Jose Abreu.
Since Abreu signed a six-year, $68-million deal with the club early last offseason, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has repeatedly stressed how the two sides are part of a lengthy relationship, that’s its important for the first baseman not to do too much too fast. Hahn reiterated those comments before Monday’s season-opener, hours before Abreu ripped a double and an RBI single in four at-bats in a 5-3 White Sox win over the Minnesota Twins.
No matter how Abreu performs early, Hahn plans to hold off judgment until further down the road as the Cuban acclimates to a new life and a new league.
“We're speculating on all this,” Hahn said. “He could go off and have four hits today and everyone will think it's a great signing or he could 0-for-44 like our manager and people think it's a lousy deal. The Jose Abreu signing is going to be judged over the six years — how many championships we're in position to win over those six years.”
But the White Sox won’t deny they’re satisfied with the early returns.
The first baseman has put himself in the best position for success possible through a new workout program, a nutrition program and constant work in the field and in the batting cage. Hahn said that it wasn’t Abreu’s showing up 90 minutes early at the start of camp to work that “speaks volumes about his demeanor” but the fact that the effort was still there on the final day of spring training.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura has been excited about Abreu’s effort from the outset. But Ventura is equally impressed how Abreu handled himself on Opening Day as he essentially grabbed the torch from Paul Konerko and has taken over as the team’s everyday starter.
“The good news is that Opening Day and being up here didn’t change him at all,” Ventura said. “He’s still stayed with what he does best and again, with tough conditions and Opening Day, he stayed true to himself.”
Abreu isn’t going to lie — getting a hit on the first pitch he saw from Minnesota starter Ricky Nolasco helped him to relax. But Abreu said he had little difficulty slowing down the game or dealing with emotion in his major league debut.
“Concentration,” Abreu said through a translator. “That’s the only way to deal with this. As long as you’re concentrating on the team you avoid all that. There was no time that I felt that way. We kept talking back and forth. There was no time where it felt too big or the game was going too fast.”
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Despite two months of solid early reviews, including this first day under the microscope, Hahn’s going to temper expectations. The White Sox don’t want Abreu to put too much pressure on himself. They know all he has to combat: learning a new league, playing a more rigorous schedule and traveling far more often. Off the field he has to adjust to a new culture and learn a new language.
So they’re willing to wait and not just for a week or two before they determine whether or not they made the right decision.
“There's no judgment on that signing May 15 or even at the end of this season at least in my standpoint,” Hahn said. “We are asking a tremendous amount of this individual ... It's not an easy transition. Fortunately he's talented enough and mentally strong enough that these distractions or difficulties, I think he has the ability to minimize them. But we're going to have to wait and see.”