Bobby Abreu, from great mentor to bad role model

I’ve always believed that a team needs a strong veteran presence, on a 25-man roster there should be at least a couple of older players to mentor the youngsters.  Maybe I have an issue with authority myself, but it’s always been easier for me to learn from an experienced peer than from someone assigned to evaluate or manage me.  But an important aspect of mentorship is promotion of a team approach, of a commitment to be one’s best and a devotion to winning.

I’d like to see Bobby Abreu in this light, since I’ve always admired him and been his fan.  As a player he certainly has strengths that can be passed on, most especially plate discipline and consequent high on-base percentage.  It was only a couple of years ago that the Angels re-signed Abreu and allowed Vlad Guerrero to saunter off to Texas, in a choice many fans speculated was driven by a desire to change a swing-away team culture.  Bobby was to be the model of future Angel hitters:  smart with a good eye and the ability to drive the ball.

Then something happened last year, on the way to Bobby replacing Mickey Hatcher as hitting coach (some of us are dreamers).  Maybe it began when his power numbers started declining and pitchers became more aggressive with him at bat.  Maybe the umpires became impatient with him or lost some respect for his strike-zone sense as he became more dependent on walks.  Maybe he got tired in the second half, or maybe his bat is simply slower.  But Bobby is not the Bobby of 2009.

This spring Abreu told the media he would prefer to be traded if he didn’t have a regular role on the Angels.  This behavior is not consistent with a team approach, and is not an approach to model for younger players.  Reportedly Dipoto tried to trade Abreu to the Yankees but the deal fell through, meanwhile Morales looks like he will be playing this year and although Mark Trumbo is making progress at 3rd, he is also in line for DH at bats.

I guess we’re all wondering what Bobby’s role will be on the team, Bobby esoecially.  Rumor has it he came in carrying a few extra pounds to a spring where he must know he’s battling for his job.  Reporting out of shape cannot help his case.  It doesn’t strike me as demonstration of commitment, good preparation and a passion to win.  As of this writing, Bobby is 3 for 21 this spring with about two weeks before the season starts.  There’s plenty of reasons to keep him on the team: as insurance for Morales, as a left-handed bat off the bench, as a Sunday player.  But not as a player in the starting nine.  And after this spring, not as a role model.