LAST RESORT

Houston Astros make necessary, difficult decision on Jose Abreu

Astros Jose Abreu
Jose Abreu is heading to Florida. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros will option slumping first baseman José Abreu to their spring training facility to try and get the 2020 AL MVP back on track.

General manager Dana Brown made the announcement Tuesday, saying that they’d make the move Wednesday. The 37-year-old will report to the Astros complex in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Brown said the decision was made after a meeting that included himself, Abreu, coaches and front-office personnel.

Abreu, in the second season of a $58.5 million, three-year contract, is hitting .099 with just one extra-base hit and three RBIs. In 77 plate appearances across 22 games this season, Abreu has just seven hits.

Brown said Abreu was very receptive during their conversation and had a good attitude about the move.

“Jose Abreu is an outstanding human being,” Brown said. “He is unselfish and he’s a teammate’s guy and he wants to get himself back to what he was doing last fall. And so, in the midst of this conversation, you could see that this guy is passionate and determined to get back to helping his team.”

“And so he unselfishly was on board with an agreement with going back to West Palm Beach and getting some extra bats, getting some detailed instruction on what we could do to get him back,” Brown continued.

The Astros selected the contract of Joey Loperfido from Triple-A Sugar Land on Tuesday and he will likely play some first base, but Brown indicated that he’d mostly be used in the outfield. The 24-year-old was set to make his major league debut Tuesday night against the Guardians in left field, leaving Jon Singleton to fill in for Abreu at first base. Singleton entered Tuesday hitting .238 with 10 hits and no RBIs.

Abreu was the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year and is a three-time All-Star and a three-time Silver Slugger award winner. He in his 11th big league season.

“He got to the point where he was frustrated,” Brown said. “It’s rare to do it. But I think it tells us about his dedication and commitment and I don’t think he sees this as a long term and I don’t think we see it as a long term thing. I think it’s more like… let’s go down, let’s make some adjustments. Let’s get the rhythm and timing back. And I think in his eyes, he’s looking at it as I’ll be back in a couple of weeks or whatever it takes to get better.”

Abreu hit .237 with 18 home runs and 90 RBIs last season in his first year in Houston after nine seasons with the White Sox. He had four homers and 13 RBIs in 11 postseason games.

“The bat speed is still pretty good,” Brown said. “So, we’ve got to get his timing right and we’ve got to get his rhythm right, so that he can consistently do it. And so I still feel very optimistic about it.”

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One presumes the Chicken Littles have stopped clucking about the Astros’ season being a goner, or if not gone, on life support. It wasn’t when they were 7-19. It wasn’t when they were 12-24. It certainly isn’t now that they’ve won six straight games and eight of their last nine. Another three or four weeks of inept play could have doomed them, but the worm has turned. A 20-25 record is no cause for celebration, but it has the Astros within four games of first place. Yes, getting to play the A’s four times this week helped. And?

I detailed the schedule issue on our Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast this week. The Astros were flat lousy for the season’s first six weeks. But… Starting the week the Astros had played a whopping 32 of their 40 games against teams with a winning record as of Monday. The Seattle Mariners had played 23 such games, the Texas Rangers only 16. The Philadelphia Phillies have been sensational so far and are fully legit. But… The Phillies entered the weekend having played three games vs. teams now sporting a winning record. Three! Out of 45 games. Going into this weekend's series only the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels had played more games against winning teams than had the Astros. It’s not mere coincidence that the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels are the three last place teams in the American League. The Astros were not up to the challenge of their first quarter schedule, but by no means did it render them dead, particularly in the thus far Mild, Mild, American League West.

A good Brewers team visits Minute Maid Park for three games this weekend. The Astros beat their best starter Friday night. Next the Astros get the pathetic Angels here for three before a three-game series at Oakland. Meanwhile the West leading Mariners start a ten-game road trip this weekend: three at the excellent Orioles, four at the excellent Yankees, three at the respectable Nationals. The Astros stand a good chance of overtaking the M’s by the end of this month if they can win the four-game series they open Memorial Day in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers snapped a five game losing streak Wednesday to eke back over .500 at 23-22. The reigning World Series champs hope to get somewhat well vs. the Angels in Arlington this weekend but dropped the series opener to drop back to .500. For their sake they better because the Rangers then hit the road for Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Naturally, many Astros fans are upset with Ronel Blanco serving a 10 game suspension for illegally using whatever substance on his glove and non-pitching hand. The suspension is basically automatic. The suspension is also not a big problem. Blanco has been fantastic since getting a starting rotation spot only because of Justin Verlander’s delayed start to his season. It’s said that all life owes us is opportunity. Man, did Blanco seize his. With just seven big league starts to his name before entering this season as a 30-year old, Blanco has made eight this season with a sparkling 2.09 earned run average. So, what’s that about the suspension is not a big problem?

Blanco will miss one start and have another pushed back a day or two. That’s just not a big deal. In fact it may be helpful in the bigger picture. With last year being the first time in his professional career that Blanco topped 100 innings pitched (125 1/3), the Astros need to be wary of Blanco’s workload which is on pace to blow past last year’s career-high innings total. J.P. France probably pitched over his head for a while last year, but went well past his prior career-high innings total and faded badly. Cristian Javier was tremendous in 2022 while pitching more than in any previous year, but he pitched even more in 2023 and faded badly.

Alex Bregman lives! After being nearly inconceivably inept through the first quarter of the season, the Alex awakening in the Oakland series was not shocking but most welcomed. Over his first 37 games Bregman had a paltry seven extra base hits. Even with a feeble .201 batting average and .534 OPS, that Bregman had scored just eight runs over those 37 games was hard to believe. Then Monday and Tuesday saw five extra base hits and four runs scored.

In a trade not commanding any headlines, Dana Brown Wednesday sent outfielder Corey Julks to the White Sox for 20-year-old low minor league pitcher Luis Rodriguez. There is now no reason to call it a great Astros trade but Brown made a smart deal. Julks had no future here, hence he would have been released if no deal was struck. Taking a flyer on a young arm can’t hurt. Frankly, the White Sox are dumb to trade a young arm of any promise whatsoever for a 28-year-old outfielder with limited value. Julks was a nice story for parts of last season. The Clear Brook High School grad and UH product had a couple windows of production, highlighted by a sizzling nine game 17 for 34 stretch straddling June and July. Alas, not two weeks later Julks began what would become an 0 for 36 nightmare. He was sent to the minors for good in late-August.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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