Don't expect any confirmation from Rick Renteria. The White Sox skipper always tries to keep from revealing anything about his strategy. But this sure looks like as realistic an Opening Day lineup for the White Sox as any.
Here's how one of the two teams stacked up for Saturday's intrasquad game at Guaranteed Rate Field, and you can picture this being announced for the July 24 opener against the Minnesota Twins.
1. Tim Anderson, SS
2. Luis Robert, CF
3. José Abreu, 1B
4. Edwin Encarnación, DH
5. Yasmani Grandal, C
6. Eloy Jiménez, LF
7. Nomar Mazara, RF
8. Danny Mendick, 3B
9. Leury García, 2B
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That looks pretty accurate.
The big question, of course, is whether Mendick will be swapped out for a healthy Yoán Moncada come the first game of the regular season. The White Sox placed their starting third baseman on the 10-day injured list Friday, not specifying why he was being sidelined. He hasn't made an appearance during "Summer Camp" workouts, which have been going on for more than a week at Guaranteed Rate Field.
No specifics regarding his health status meant no timeline for his return, either. But if we go simply by the "10-day" portion of the 10-day injured list, then Moncada could be ready to go before Opening Day. But another question then looms: After missing so much of "Summer Camp," how far would he be from game shape?
White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino took a stab at answering that question Saturday, but as with everything that comes with the 2020 baseball season, there are too many unknowns to make an accurate prediction.
"I don't know, to be honest with you," Menechino said. "I think 10, 15 at-bats to see where he's at. And then, probably, I'd say 20 at-bats to get him started in the right direction. As far as days, I don't know what he's able to do while he's not here.
"Listen, he's a great athlete, and I think it's going to be sooner rather than later for him. Once he sees his teammates playing, he'll want to get in there. And that might not be such a bad thing. If he's in shape and he's ready to handle the workload, I think he'll get in there pretty quick."
Let's say Moncada is ready for Opening Day. How would Renteria's lineup look then? Well, it's probably an easy swap of Moncada and Robert, moving the third baseman into the No. 2 spot in the order and bumping the rookie center fielder all the way down to the No. 8 spot. Renteria said earlier during "Summer Camp" that he's still planning on Anderson and Moncada being his 1-2 punch at the top of the order, something he's been talking about since spring training.
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While Robert has been discussed as having top-of-the-order potential, Renteria has asked for patience to allow Robert to get used to facing major league pitching. Someday, maybe. But if all his teammates are healthy, Robert might dip his toes into the big league waters near the bottom of the order.
"I still look at Timmy and Moncy being the 1-2 guys right now," Renteria said earlier this week. "I’ve played with a lot of different lineups in using different scenarios. But I have to be very mindful. As gifted and as talented as that young man (Robert) is — you all see the explosiveness and the gift that he has — I have to also be mindful in that everyone can see what he can do. I want to make sure he transitions into a place where he’s competing and put him in there in the best possible way to allow him to gain confidence in doing what he does.
"The question is: Will he ever be moved up through the lineup? ... As he continues to evolve, he’ll be a guy who can hit anywhere from 1 through 5. That’s the type of talent he has. Right now, he’s still barely breaking into the big leagues, and if his body of work in a short period of time starts to show us that, man, he can impact us in a significant way somewhere throughout the lineup, we’ll do that."
None of that would have been terribly difficult to predict, considering what Renteria has been saying for months. More mysterious was how the middle of the order would shake out after Abreu. Well, Saturday's intrasquad lineup might be the answer. And though Renteria will likely shake things up throughout the 60-game season based on pitching matchups, hot hands and everything else that regularly jumbles up baseball lineups, here's what to expect for Opening Day, assuming a ready-to-rock Moncada, that is:
1. Anderson, SS
2. Moncada, 3B
3. Abreu, 1B
4. Encarnación, DH
5. Grandal, C
6. Jiménez, LF
7. Mazara, RF
8. Robert, CF
9. García, 2B
Two more points before we go.
First, Lucas Giolito is the extremely logical choice to be the Opening Day starting pitcher. Renteria, again not wanting to reveal anything, would not even commit to trotting out the All Star and no-doubt ace of the South Side staff for that date with the division-rival Twins. But Giolito wants the assignment — something that comes with being the leader of the pitching staff, something else he wants to be — and it would be wildly shocking if he doesn't get it.
"I absolutely want that. The way I look at it being the ace of the staff, you are setting an example not just with what you are doing on the field but also taking a more vocal role, which I feel like I’m trying to continue to get the feel for that," Giolito said earlier this week. "That’s pretty much what I want. I want to be that leader of the pitching staff, taking the ball in the first game, kind of setting the tone."
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Second, Nick Madrigal. It's a complicated situation for the highly touted prospect. If you'll dial your memory all the way back to September of last year, Rick Hahn said he expected Madrigal to be the team's second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 season. Well, the bulk of the 2020 season has since been wiped away by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the fruitless negotiations between Major League Baseball and the players' union. White Sox brass said early this year and as recently as spring training that Madrigal had a little left to show in the minor leagues before he was deemed ready for the major leagues. Well, now there are no minor league games to play in, complicating things.
The White Sox have never said, nor will they ever say, that service-time considerations are part of their decision-making process when it comes to bringing players up to the bigs. But until it's negotiated away in a new collective-bargaining agreement, it remains a reality of the game. With service-time rules matching the squeezed-down schedule this season, the White Sox could gain another year of team control on Madrigal if his major league debut comes just about a week into the regular season.
But this most unusual of seasons presents further things to think about. Is it possible Madrigal stays away from the majors all year long? Keeping him away from a brief season could mean the White Sox could wait to start his service-time clock until not just next season but a couple weeks into next season — when they could be better positioned to contend for a title than in this weird season full of unknowns — extending their team control and their contention window even more. That doesn't seem super likely, but it's something to think about, at the very least.
Bottom line: García seems a safer bet to be the White Sox second baseman on Opening Day.
So there's the probable Opening Day lineup. Maybe Renteria throws another wrinkle or two in there, we'll have to wait and see. But this is what comes with entering contention mode: People suddenly care a great deal about what the lineup looks like. Get your pencils and scorecards ready for July 24.
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