10/08/08 10:42 AM ET
Abreu hoping '08 effort leads to return
Slugger believes he has stated his case for new deal with Yanks
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Destined for Abreu's trophy shelf, the deep fly ball represented an accomplishment Abreu takes pride in -- his consistency. Having collected 100 RBIs in six straight seasons, the free agent-to-be believes he has stated his case for what he can offer the Yankees upon a potential return.
"I've played here two years and two months, and I think they can see what kind of player that I am," Abreu said recently. "I haven't changed anything. I just do my things. I put my numbers every year there and I do my job like a third hitter. I'm not trying to do more than I've been doing, just always be the same. I think I've been doing good the last two years and two months."
Coming off a season in which he batted .296 with 20 home runs, 100 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 156 games, the 34-year-old Abreu is thought to be in the market for a multi-year contract; one season after the Yankees triggered a $16 million option that completed a six-year, $76 million pact signed with Philadelphia.
As a free agent for the first time in his career, Abreu has spoken openly about hoping to return to New York, having been traded to the Yankees from the Phillies in a July 2006 deal with pitcher Cory Lidle. But he isn't ready for predictions.
"It's hard to say right now what's going to happen," Abreu said. "Of course I want to stay here and come back next year. Who knows what's going to happen? You have to just wait to see what's going on."
Helping his case are 11 straight seasons of 150-plus games played, and the fact that Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols represent the only other Major Leaguers to drive in 100 or more runs in each of the last six seasons.
The Yankees struggled all year long in clutch opportunities, but Abreu wasn't the problem -- he batted .382 (21-for-55) with two outs and runners in scoring position.
Acquired to solidify right field and offering a positive clubhouse presence, the Yankees have enjoyed having Abreu over that 2 1/2-year span. But it is thought that a long-term contract for a corner outfielder may not be something that appeals at the moment -- not with Xavier Nady a candidate to slide into right field.
Even with Hideki Matsui coming off left knee surgery and envisioned as a designated hitter, the Yankees boast a current stable of outfielders that includes veteran Johnny Damon, as well as younger players Brett Gardner, Melky Cabrera and outfield prospect Austin Jackson on the way.
Abreu's situation with the Yankees is not likely to be approached until next month. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that organizational meetings to analyze their winter outlook will be held near the end of October, but Cashman accompanied the club on a four-city road trip in September and discussed the willingness to return with each of the team's potential free agents.
"Certainly, there's a lot of questions," Cashman said. "As older players and expiring contracts come on, it will create more questions on top of it.
"Those are the things that we have to get down to business with, and continue to focus on to find a way to plug those current holes to get to where we want to be -- but at the same time make sure that we retain the players necessary to get us to a world championship."
Among them, Abreu's status falls into line with other key free agency options, notably those of Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi. The Yankees have said that their starting rotation -- not position players -- will be the focal point of the winter.
"Regarding our own free agents, we'll definitely have to sit down and take a look," Cashman said.
But there's a quality about the bright lights of the Bronx that agrees with Abreu. Philadelphia always leaned on Abreu to a certain extent to be 'the man,' as Larry Bowa put it last year, but with the Yankees, Abreu was free to blend and become more of a complementary player.
Sandwiched between Derek Jeter and Rodriguez in the order, Abreu drew rave reviews as a No. 3 hitter, regarded as one of the Yankees' most patient batters. Abreu said that he believes the trio of himself, Jeter and Rodriguez could comprise the heart of a championship lineup.
"You have two good righties and one good lefty in the middle," Abreu said. "I can take some pitches, walk, be on base, start to do the damage in there. When you have a guy like Derek Jeter, he can hit and plays such a good game.
"You have a guy like Alex Rodriguez and all you need is to be on base. He can hit a homer or double and you know you're going to score. It changes the game. And I think the pitchers have a plan, but whenever they make a mistake, we can get them."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.