03/19/12 7:42 PM ET
This spring, Abreu navigating autumn of career
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
"Three years," the 38-year-old Angel said Monday morning, indicating he doesn't want to retire until after his age-40 season.
"That's what I want. I feel that I can keep playing. I believe that you have to know when your body tells you when to stop. But I'm fine. I feel fine."
It's early, but Abreu's spring performance would say otherwise.
The left-handed-hitting outfielder, who has been relegated to designated-hitter duties as his body has aged, has finished five of his last six springs with a batting average higher than .300. So far, though, Abreu has managed just three hits in 22 at-bats, putting him at a .136 clip.
"It's normal, I guess," Abreu said. "Spring Training, sometimes you hit, sometimes you don't. I think the most important thing is you just want to get yourself ready for the season, whatever it takes."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who has for the most part fulfilled Abreu's wish to play in as many Cactus League games as possible, believes the veteran is still "searching for a little bit of timing."
"As Spring Training starts moving on," Scioscia added, "I think he'll start to attack the ball better. Right now, obviously, he's searching for some things, like most guys are early in spring. But Bobby knows what he's doing. He knows how to get ready."
And that's why a 22-at-bat sample size in March would mean nothing to a player of Abreu's tenure and caliber.
But this is a different spring for the two-time All-Star.
In fact -- because his contract is up, because he's without a clear role for pretty much the first time in his career, because he previously stated a preference to be traded if he isn't playing every day and because he has no plans to retire -- some would say it's the spring leading up to his most important season.
Abreu doesn't look at it that way.
"To me, it's another season," said Abreu, whose $9 million price tag has made him quite difficult to trade. "No matter what, you just gotta go out there and play and put your numbers up. That won't be a problem. I don't have to change anything -- just go out there and play the game. I don't put pressure on myself."
Abreu was as consistent and well-rounded a player as there was from 1998-2009, batting .301 with a .406 on-base percentage while averaging 21 homers, 28 stolen bases and 156 games during that stretch.
Over the last two years, though, his batting average has dipped to .254. And though he posted the second-highest on-base percentage on the Angels in 2011, Abreu mustered just eight home runs all season and put up a .668 OPS in the final two months.
Now, with Albert Pujols on board, Kendrys Morales getting healthy and Mark Trumbo also searching for at-bats, playing time will be scarce for Abreu, who will look to fill in at DH, and the corner-outfield spots when Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos and Torii Hunter need days off.
Prior to reporting to camp, Abreu publicly said he'd prefer to be dealt if he didn't have an everyday role on the Angels. But those sentiments seemed to quell after a face-to-face meeting with Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto, who reiterated that he can still find his way into the lineup pretty regularly.
Abreu says his mentality hasn't changed since that first reporting date.
"My mentality is the same," he said. "Every time that I get my at-bats, I'll just try to do my thing. I just want to go there and produce and help the team win."
Abreu has never made it to the World Series in his 16 years in the Majors, but has a pretty good chance now -- and perhaps that's part of what may have him feeling a little more at ease right now.
Two years after Abreu left the Phillies after eight-plus seasons in Philadelphia, they won it all. The following year, the Yankees -- a team he played with for 2 1/2 seasons before signing as a free agent with the Angels in '09 -- won it all, too.
"We have a pretty good team right here," Abreu said. "We have good opportunities to get that ring."
Abreu, who has also won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger Award, is also nearing some very reachable personal milestones. He's 16 homers away from 300, 116 hits away from 2,500, seven steals away from 400 and 81 walks away from 1,500.
If he sticks around for three more years, as planned, he's almost guaranteed to reach them all. And if he does, you can make a pretty good case for Abreu being Hall of Fame worthy.
"I don't know," Abreu said when asked whether he should be in Cooperstown one day. "I just play my game and I don't really think about. I'm going to start thinking about that when I retire. But right now is not the time."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.