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11/20/10 6:45 PM EST
Abreu puts team first in DH stance
Veteran open to shifting role should Angels lure Crawford
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
At his offseason home in Orlando, Bobby Abreu has heard the rumor -- neither confirmed nor denied by Angels management in accordance with club policy -- that the Halos are pursuing free-agent left fielder Carl Crawford. If the club does land the premier position player in the marketplace, it will create a crowd in the outfield, likely forcing Abreu likely into a new and essentially unfamiliar role as the primary designated hitter. That would hinge on Peter Bourjos' ability to nail down the center-field job in the spring, keeping Torii Hunter in right. If Bourjos doesn't hit enough to seize the job and is returned for more seasoning to Triple-A Salt Lake, the Angels still would have a terrific outfield with Crawford in left, Hunter in center and Abreu in right. They also could play Crawford in center, with Hunter in right and Abreu in left. Hunter owns nine Gold Gloves, Crawford and Abreu have one each. If the Angels don't sign Crawford, Abreu plays left or right, depending on whether Bourjos is part of the alignment. Abreu is too much of a team guy to express discontent with the prospect of becoming a primary DH, but it clearly would be a major adjustment. He has served as a DH only 46 times in a brilliant 14-year career, 31 of those coming in the past two seasons with a career-high 17 appearances in 2010. "I have no problem with that," Abreu said by phone on Friday. "If it's something that's going to make the team better, I'm for it. I've got no problem." Reading past the lines, the fact he didn't go any further with the discussion suggests he isn't thrilled with the idea. But few full-service athletes over the years have embraced the idea of becoming a DH. Certainly the past two Angels designated hitters -- Hideki Matsui and Vladimir Guerrero -- were not crazy about setting the glove aside for days on end. Abreu tied Willie Mays in 2010 for the all-time lead by playing at least 150 games (154) for the 13th consecutive season. It would mean a great deal to Abreu to claim the record for himself, knowing how great Mays was and how important durability is to a club. To that end, he chose not to play any winter ball in his native Venezuela. "I decided it would be better just to rest," said Abreu, who will be 37 when the 2011 season opens. Abreu is coming off his least productive season since his rookie year of 1997 when, as a 23-year-old Astro, he batted .250 in 188 at-bats. He fell to a slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .255/.352/.435 in 2010, down from .293/.390/.435 when he finished 12th in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting in 2009. Abreu, who fell shy of triple digits in RBIs with 78 for the first time since 2002, is a .296 career hitter with a .400 on-base percentage and .488 slugging mark. As a DH, in 210 plate appearances, those numbers dip to .257/.352/.383. In his 17 starts as a DH in 2010, he struggled mightily: .143/.211/.200. "It just wasn't a good year for us," Abreu said. "We just never got it going like in the past." The loss of Kendry Morales on May 29 with a fractured left leg requiring surgery was a mortal blow to the offense. It forced roles to change, leaving Abreu shuttling from third to second to first in the order, surrounded by a revolving cast of characters. Chone Figgins, who teamed so superbly with Abreu in 2009, was in Seattle, and the leadoff void was deep. "We need everybody to step up and have a good year," Abreu said. "Having Kendry back will be huge. He's a great hitter; he really found himself [in 2009] when he learned how to control his aggression and be more selective." Morales, anticipating a full recovery from a broken leg as he goes through offseason rehab, often credited Abreu with opening his eyes to subtle changes he needed to make, changes that had a profound impact on his performance. "Bobby is the best," the switch-hitting first baseman said. "Having him around, you'd have to be crazy not to listen to him."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.