1B Abreu, a ‘first-rate guy,’ officially joins Astros

HOUSTON — Jose Abreu has spent his entire nine-year MLB career with the Chicago White Sox, but Astros owner Jim Crane isn’t worried about how the newly signed first baseman will fit in with his teammates in Houston.

“Jose pulled out his phone last night and had the phone numbers of our entire team,” Crane said with a laugh. “So, I guess he knows some of the guys.”

Abreu was introduced in Houston on Tuesday after signing a three-year contract with the World Series champions, adding another powerful hitter to a lineup full of them and filling the team’s biggest offseason need.

“I just want to be part of a great family,” Abreu said in Spanish through an interpreter. “The last six years, I think the Astros have created a great culture, great family here and I want to be a part of that and, most importantly, I want to win.”

He’ll take over at first base for Yuli Gurriel, the 2021 American League batting champ who has spent the past seven years with the team. Gurriel is a free agent but could remain with the team in a utility role. Crane said Tuesday that the Astros are talking with his agent about a new contract.

Abreu has had a good career with the White Sox, winning AL Rookie of the Year in 2014 and being selected the AL MVP in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season when he appeared in all 60 games for Chicago. The 35-year-old is a three-time All-Star and has won three Silver Slugger Awards.

He has hit 30 or more home runs in five seasons and led the AL with 123 RBIs in 2019.

Since his major league debut in 2014, Abreu leads the AL in total bases (2,509) and games played (1,270). He’s second in hits (1,445) and RBIs (863) and ranks third in home runs (243).

Crane raved about adding Abreu to a batting order that includes Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Kyle Tucker.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Crane said. “He’s been a consistent player for a number of years. And you throw his bat in the lineup and with his statistics, he’s going to put some pop in the lineup, and that’s why we were attracted to him. Plus, he’s a first-rate guy.”

Abreu said the White Sox offered him a contract to stay, but in the end, he believed joining the Astros was a better decision for him as he tries to add a championship to his resume.

“I’m just coming here to work and give it my all,” he said. “There’s nothing else I can do.”

Abreu joins the Astros after hitting .304 with 15 home runs, 75 RBIs and a career-high 62 walks in 2022. He was asked about finishing with a career-low homers in 2022 after slugging 30 in 2021 and 19 in the shortened 2020 season.

“I think I’ve spoiled people with all the home runs the last few years,” Abreu said. “Obviously, I used to hit 30 almost every year. Not saying that it can’t happen again, [so] I’m excited to be in this ballpark and be part of this family.”

Abreu and Gurriel are both from Cuba and played against each other for years in the country’s national league before coming to America. Abreu shared his feelings on his relationship with Gurriel and being in the position of replacing him with the Astros.

“I have the utmost respect for Yuli,” Abreu said. “I’m just very grateful and I understand that this is part of the business and hopefully he’s able to stay in the major leagues.”

The 2023 season will be Abreu’s 20th as a professional after starting his career in Cuba at age 16 and spending 10 seasons with the Elefantes de Cienfuegos there before signing with the White Sox in 2013.

Aside from winning a title, he shared what he’s looking for in his transition to the Astros.

“I just don’t want to lose the hunger for baseball,” he said. “I think when I lose the hunger for baseball, that’s a day that I’m just going to go home.”

The White Sox were disappointed to lose Abreu, and team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf called him one of the franchise’s all-time greats.

“It was my fervent hope that Jose would never wear another uniform, as I told him many times throughout the years,” Reinsdorf said in a statement. “Unfortunately, hope is not always translated into reality. While we ended up in different places in the business side of the game, Jose and I always shared the same love of baseball. I am grateful to Jose for his friendship, and the impact he made for the White Sox franchise both on the field and in the community … his legacy is written in the White Sox record books forever.”

The White Sox won’t have much time to miss Abreu before they next see him with the team as they open the season against the Astros next year on March 30.

“It’s only fitting that we’re playing the White Sox for Opening Day,” Abreu said. “I’m just going to continue working this whole time and just give it my all.”

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