When Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu’s ankles first started bothering him in the middle of spring training, he received several days of rest and the hope was that the problem wouldn’t persist into the season. The rest paid off and the plan worked, with Abreu beginning his American career in record-breaking fashion. But a little more than two weeks ago, a new soreness arose with a vengeance, and after much consternation, the White Sox finally put their rookie slugger on the DL with an official diagnosis of posterior tibial tendonitis in his left ankle.
It was a good move for a number of reasons, most importantly because preserving Abreu’s long-term health is one of the team’s top priorities right now. When they signed him to a six-year, 68 million dollar deal in the offseason, the White Sox brass made it clear that Abreu is a part of their plans to build a stronger ballclub moving forward.
Abreu responded to the team’s faith in him accordingly, winning the American League’s Rookie of the Month and Player of the Month awards for April thanks to his .261/.331/.613 slash line, 10 home runs and 31 RBIs, and quickly became one of the most respected hitters in the game. He added five more longballs in his 58 May at bats, and still leads baseball in the category. But playing through pain had an impact on Abreu. In his final game before going on the DL, the pain in his ankle intensified to the extent that teammates said it looked like Abreu was playing on one leg. His performance suffered as well, and he went 0-for-7 in his final two active games.
In terms of timing, the injury actually came at an okay moment. As a team, the White Sox are in an early-season slump, tripping over their own feet and mired in a 3-6 slump. They recently lost two games of a three-game series to the Houston Astros, who boast the worst record in the American League right now. The losses to the Astros are part of a stretch of three straight series losses for the White Sox, two against the two worst teams in baseball right now. In yet another act of infinite class, Paul Konerko expressed his readiness to take over first base while Abreu heals, saying he will do whatever the team needs him to do. Konerko returned for the 2014 season on the grounds that he would not play every day and take a backseat role along the way.
The argument could be made that the White Sox need Abreu and his big bat more than anything right now, but the fact is that when a team is in a situation like the one the White Sox currently face, of trying to rebound from the franchise’s worst season in 30 years with a young revamped roster, it’s necessary to realizing that the road back is full of as many potholes as Midwestern roads in winter. Given how poorly the team is playing right now and how many injuries they’ve had to deal with already, it’s much better to focus on the future health of the ballclub even at the cost of the team’s most solid hitter and exciting player. Hopefully by the time Abreu returns, the White Sox will be in a better state, ready to show that their strong play in April was more than just an early season fluke.