What does Jose Abreu's 2019 say about the kind of future he could have?

There's been so much talk about whether the White Sox will bring Jose Abreu back following the end of the 2019 season.

All the talk from the White Sox and from Abreu himself would lead you to believe that it's almost a foregone conclusion that Abreu will be a South Sider forever, as he's so often claimed he wants to be. And the endless examples of the leadership he provides in the home clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field make that seem like a very good thing for the White Sox moving forward. If Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert are going to be key members of a championship core, then keeping Abreu around to mentor them makes an awful lot of sense.

But what about the production at the plate? If the White Sox are going to re-sign Abreu - something general manager Rick Hahn has long said is unlikely to happen before the season's end - what kind of hitter will they be getting in their lineup over the next several seasons?

Prior to the 2018 campaign, that was the easiest question in the world to answer. After all, Abreu is one of three hitters ever (in remarkable company with Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols) to start their big league careers with four straight seasons of at least 25 home runs and at least 100 RBIs. Abreu was as consistent as they come, and so extending him into the future meant plenty of sense from both an on-field and off-field standpoint.

That still remains plenty true, but the past two seasons have not been the same kind of automatic production Abreu displayed during his first four major league campaigns.

In 2018, that was thanks in part to a pair of freak injuries: a bout of testicular torsion and an infection in his leg. Despite an extended and uncharacteristic slump in the middle of the season, Abreu got hot before those injuries struck and might have been able to reach those 25-homer and 100-RBI plateaus once more. But he didn't, though that could be excused as a fluke.

So what's happened this year? Well, some of the numbers have been excellent, and some haven't.

After a three-hit, one-homer, three-RBI afternoon in the White Sox win over the Detroit Tigers in the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader, Abreu is now up to 24 home runs, making it all but a certainty that he'll reach 25 homers, and 81 RBIs, putting him well on track to reach triple digits in RBIs. As of this writing, he's on pace to hit 35 home runs and drive in 118 runs. Those would be among the best numbers of his career, one off his career-high 36 homers and well past his career-high 107 RBIs, both those marks from his rookie year in 2014.

Those numbers are the good news for Abreu and the White Sox, and with career-best production in those two power categories, keeping Abreu in the middle of an order featuring Moncada, Jimenez, Robert, Tim Anderson and Nick Madrigal in 2020 and beyond seems like a no-brainer.

But other numbers have not been as stellar. In fact, Abreu's heading toward near career-worst levels in the three main offensive rate stats. His .267 batting average is only two points above the career-low .265 average he finished with last season. His .306 on-base percentage would be the lowest of his big league career, well below the .325 he finished with last season. And his .481 slugging percentage would be the third lowest of his career, just ahead of the .468 and .473 values he put up in 2016 and 2018, respectively. He's on pace for a career-low 33 walks and a career-high 158 strikeouts.

Another slump is partially to blame. Before heading out on the current road trip, Abreu started the second half with a woeful .195/.222/.247 slash line and just one homer in his first 19 games of the second half. In the past five games, though, Abreu has eight hits and a pair of homers.

None of this is to say that this will be the norm for Abreu moving forward. But as he continues to age out of his prime years, a drop in production would hardly be unexpected. That kind of thing happens to most players. The good thing is he's still hitting the ball out of the ballpark and driving in runs, on his way to setting a career high in the latter category on a team that ranks 28th out of 30 major league teams in runs scored. But the dips in the averages could be a signal of that drop off. Time will tell.

At the same time, none of this is to suggest that the White Sox should think twice about re-signing Abreu, if indeed that's something they've decided to do. While Hahn is always quick to praise Abreu and the value the veteran first baseman has inside and outside the White Sox clubhouse, and while all that praise has made it seem like Abreu is a lock to be a part of the team's future plans, nothing is official until it's official. It certainly seems as if the organization thinks about Abreu the same way they've thought about players who now have their numbers retired and have statues in the outfield concourse at Guaranteed Rate Field.

What Abreu brings as a leader in the clubhouse and as a producer in the middle of the lineup still makes an overly compelling case for the White Sox to keep him around. But in attempting to figure out what kind of hitter he'll be moving forward, what he's doing this season might provide a few clues.

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What does Jose Abreu's 2019 say about the kind of future he could have? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago