Abreu's presence narrows trade focus

CHICAGO -- As Rick Hahn hunts around this week's general manager's meetings in Orlando searching for future trade bargains, he does so knowing that he has potentially improved a number of positions already.

Sure there was last year's three-team trade that brought aboard outfielder Avisail Garcia, and the offseason move to sign first baseman Jose Abreu. But two spots on the left side of the field also figure to see significant improvement.

With Abreu aboard having defected from Cuba, his presence also figures to provide an emotional boost to fellow Cuba natives Alexei Ramirez at shortstop and Dayan Viciedo in left field.

Critics of the Abreu signing at six years and $68 million, say that the White Sox overpaid for an unproven talent. But Abreu had greater value to the White Sox than he did to most teams because of the support group the team would be building in the clubhouse.

First and foremost will be Abreu's ability to make a smooth transition with Ramirez and Viciedo there to not only show their new teams the ins and outs of Major League Baseball, but also the city of Chicago.

"I'd like to think it would help in terms of the transition," Hahn said at Abreu's introductory press conference two weeks ago. "There is going to be a transition period. You'll be dealing with a player that is not only new to the league but new to the culture and new to the city. There will be an adjustment period for that which is part of the reason it's important to realize this is a long-term commitment and not a quick-fix sort of thing that should be evaluated a month into the 2014 season."

The hidden value is that with even more attention on the White Sox from the global Cuban community, Ramirez and Viciedo have the inspiration to show more on the field instead of being stuck in the mud like they have been in recent seasons.

Ramirez's career arc continued to trend downward in 2013. At first glance, his .284 batting average looked decent enough, but his .313 on-base percentage was tied for second-worst over his six-year career. After also averaging more than 70 RBIs a season, he plunged to 48 in 2013.

Then there is the matter of Ramirez's power game, something he planned to emphasize when asked about it way back in spring training. He delivered just six home runs, after hitting at least 15 in each of his first four seasons. He did manage to deliver career bests in doubles (39) and stolen bases (30).

Viciedo also took a step back in 2013, although, he wasn't helped by an early-season oblique injury that landed him on the disabled list. Viciedo's batting average and on-base percentage were up ever so slightly this past season, but his slugging percentage declined from .444 in 2012 to .426 last season.

That played out to an RBI total of 56 that was 22 less than 2012 and a home run total of 14 that was 11 less than a year ago.

Abreu certainly won't help Ramirez or Viciedo see the ball better at the plate, although depending on the lineup structure, Viciedo could end up benefiting from Abreu's presence. But their budding support group means the White Sox probably avoid using either in potential trade packages.

So Hahn proceeds this week exploring options to potentially upgrade at third base and catcher, while adding a left-handed reliever for the late innings to the mix. When baseball executives return to Orlando for next month's winter meetings, the White Sox will likely have a better idea of what route they want to take.

"These meetings tend to provide a nice chance to have more specific exchanges with other clubs about ideas we've discussed over the phone over the past couple of months," Hahn said. "While there may not be any significant deals consummated until we're back in Orlando a few weeks from now, or perhaps even later, a lot of the time the foundation is laid this week.

"Some years, clubs are ready to deal down here as well; if that is the case this year, we're ready to make a move as well should that right opportunity arise."