Nolan Arenado

White Sox Team of the Future: Third base

White Sox Team of the Future: Third base

What will the next championship-contending White Sox team look like?

That's what we're setting out to determine (or at least make a guess at) this month. Ten members of our White Sox content team here at NBC Sports Chicago put our heads together to try to project what each position on the diamond would look like in one, two, three years. Basically, we posed the question: What will the White Sox starting lineup be the next time they're capable of playing in the World Series?

That question can have a bunch of different answers, too. We didn't limit ourselves to players currently a part of the organization. Think the White Sox are gonna make a big free-agent addition? Vote for that player. Think the White Sox are gonna pull off a huge trade? Vote for that player. We wanted to see some creativity.

Interestingly, for a team with no right-this-second obvious long-term solution at the hot corner, only three different players got votes to be the White Sox third baseman of the future. The winner? Yoan Moncada.

The current starting second baseman, Moncada's potential move to third has been a talking point all offseason, one that makes sense considering the defensive skills last year's first-round pick, Nick Madrigal, has displayed as a middle infielder. It's not to knock Moncada's potential — though only two players in baseball made more errors than Moncada did last season (he made 21) — just that if you have the option of installing a Gold Glove type defender at second base, finding room for him makes a lot of sense.

Of course, there's a lot up in the air with the White Sox current infield alignment, with the team pursuing Manny Machado in free agency (more on him in a bit). That could throw everything out of whack if he insists on playing shortstop, forcing a position switch for Tim Anderson and perhaps forcing Moncada to stay at second. For what it's worth, Madrigal isn't the reason general manager Rick Hahn gave for the potential move of Moncada, at least not the only reason. And it's still just a potential move. While the White Sox would be wise to get Moncada as comfortable as possible at third as soon as possible if he is their best long-term option there, the decision to move him hasn't been made yet.

“We have not (made a determination on that yet),” Hahn said back in November during the GM Meetings. “We’ve talked to the player, we’ve talked to scouts, had a lot of good conversations about it. Fundamentally we like versatility and flexibility in all our players. So in that specific example, Moncada’s ability to play third and second, that makes him more valuable to us. Should we eventually make a switch full time, that would be a decision we’d make closer to spring training and announce closer to spring training after the offseason plays out with how we’re going to line up.

“Individually, you want to put the player in the best position to succeed for the long term. Flexibility, versatility of a roster factors into that, as well, to try to give (manager Rick Renteria) the best weapons at his disposal at any given game. And then you have to factor in the alternatives that you have and what’s going to put us in the best long-term position to win.

“If we wind up with having too many premium middle-infield prospects or big league performers, that’s a good problem to have.”

Of course that's a good problem to have, but eventually the White Sox will need a premium third base prospect, too. It looked like Jake Burger was going to be that after the White Sox made him their first-round pick in 2017. But he twice tore his Achilles last year, amplifying already existing questions about his ability to play third base in the majors as well as he might be able to swing the bat. Part of what's made the pursuit of Machado so seemingly high-stakes for White Sox fans is the ease with which he could solve the third base question. He wants to play shortstop, but $200 million is a pretty convincing argument to move back to third base.

And so Moncada emerges as a very realistic option. While a lot of fans have soured on his long-term prospects after a nearly record-setting 217-strikeout season in 2018, it's important to remember that Moncada is still just 23 years old and has one full season in the major leagues under his belt. There might not have been much to be excited about looking at his stat line from last season, but there's no doubt he had flashes of brilliance and gave samples of what made him the No. 1 prospect in baseball not too long ago.

Moncada is still as much a part of the long-term plans on the South Side as any player, and there will be a place on the field for him to develop into what the White Sox and so many evaluators believe he can be. That spot might just be third base starting in 2019.

Other vote-getters

Manny Machado. A real easy way to wrap the conversation up about who the third baseman of the future is would be for for Machado to sign with the White Sox for the better part of the next decade and agree to play third base. He's won a pair of Gold Gloves at the hot corner and spent the majority of his first seven seasons in the majors there before moving to the debatably more glamorous position of shortstop ahead of last season. Perhaps that was with an eye on upping the amount of money he could make this offseason. Perhaps he just wanted to return to the position he was drafted to play. Regardless, he's seemed pretty adamant about wanting to play shortstop, and so if he comes to the South Side, the more realistic outcome could be Anderson getting moved rather than Machado just agreeing to play third, even if hundreds of millions of dollars make a strong case. Would Machado be the ideal guy to be the third baseman of the future? Yes. But if you're doing all you can just to get him to join your team, isn't allowing him to play his preferred position pretty high on the list of concessions?

Nolan Arenado. There will be no bigger name on next winter's free-agent market than Arenado, and he's long been discussed as a possibility for the White Sox to pursue should they miss out on Machado. He'll turn 29 shortly after Opening Day 2020, making him older but no less a perfect fit than Machado when it comes to the White Sox long-term plans. He might end up costing more, considering he boasts a potentially stronger resume with six Gold Gloves, four All-Star appearances and four Silver Sluggers to his name. Arenado also figures to be more in line from a timing standpoint with the progression of the rebuild, a free agent that could be a true "finishing piece" rather than a finishing piece that has to wait a year for the contention window to open, though when inking these long-term deals, that's perhaps not as big a worry as it once might have seemed. What scares some about Arenado is the Coors Field factor, and his numbers at home in Denver are drastically different than his numbers away from the Mile High City over the course of his career: a .320/.374/.609 slash line with 108 homers and 376 RBIs at Coors and a .263/.318/.469 slash line with 78 homers and 240 RBIs away from it. But those concerns aside, Arenado is obviously one of the game's best players, and should the White Sox still be looking for a big name and a third baseman next offseason, he'd have to be near the top of the wish list.

Sox Drawer Q&A: Can the White Sox become the Mariners' next trade partner?

Sox Drawer Q&A: Can the White Sox become the Mariners' next trade partner?

Let’s begin this edition of the Sox Drawer with an appreciation for the one and only Omar Narvaez, who the White Sox selected in the AAA phase of the 2013 Rule 5 draft (30 picks AFTER they chose catcher Adrian Nieto — remember him?). Five years later, Narvaez became such a hot commodity, the White Sox were able to flip him to the Seattle Mariners on Friday for All-Star reliever Alex Colome.  

This is MLB’s version of winning the Rule 5 lottery.   

How unique is Narvaez? FutureSox ran the numbers. In the last 15 Rule 5 drafts, there have been 583 players selected in the minor league portion of the draft. Forty-one of those players have gone on to reach the majors. How many have generated a 3+ bWAR in their MLB careers like Narvaez? Only 5 of them, less than 1 percent!

Alexi Ogando, Alejandro de Aza, Justin Bour, Richard Bleier and Narvaez. That’s it.

Narvaez deserves a ton of credit for breaking through and becoming a certified major leaguer. Who else helped him? Believe it or not, an instructional video featuring one of the greatest hitters in baseball history: Tony Gwynn. True story.

After batting .168 in April and May last season, Narvaez told me he started watching this old hitting video of the late San Diego Padres Hall of Famer. Gwynn said that one of the keys to his success was simply watching the baseball come out of the pitcher’s hand. Gwynn obviously had an incredible eye; that helped. This novel concept also helped Narvaez, who went back and watched the video again, used Gwynn’s method in games and in the last four months of the season, he slashed .315/.401/.502.   

I can’t say who will be the next Omar Narvaez to win the Rule 5 lottery for the White Sox, but I can answer your questions right here, right now in the Sox Drawer!  

Q: Trading four years of Narvaez for two years of Colome and then non-tendering Davidson and Avi (assuming they improve those positions) seem like indicators the organization wants to begin competing for the division as early as next year. Am I reading too much into these moves? — DJ (@DeepFriedStack)

CG: At first glance, it might seem that way, but according to Rick Hahn, that was not the reason behind the moves. Rebuilding or not, the White Sox really need to improve the back end of the bullpen. With Welington Castillo signed for one more year with a team option for a second and with Seby Zavala and Zack Collins waiting in the wings and eventually needing major-league time at catcher, the White Sox had to make some room behind the plate long-term. They sold high on Narvaez and acquired a premium arm in Colome to either set up or close games.  

I know we’ve seen reports about how active the White Sox might be this offseason. How active are they? Hahn won’t say, but on Friday he did explain what they are trying to do this winter in terms of free agents: making calculated moves that fit the White Sox long-term plan. 

“In this free agent market, there are potential opportunities to convert on premium talent that would fit along with what we’re trying to develop for the long term,” Hahn said on a conference call with reporters. “Usually, when you look at a rebuild when you’re entering Year 3 as we are, it isn’t necessarily the time that teams push ahead in the winter and try to advance things unnaturally. That’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going to stick with the long-term plan. But if in fact, there’s an opportunity to convert on unique talent that becomes available that fits that long-term plan, then yes, we’re going to be aggressive and fully explore it.”

The “unique talent” that Hahn describes at least sounds like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. If the White Sox are able to sign or acquire someone of that ilk to a long term deal and they end up competing for a division title next season, that would be great. But making moves to try to win the division next year at the cost of losing financial flexibility further down the road is not the plan. Still, the White Sox lost 100 games last year. There’s a lot of improving that can be done, even if it’s in the short-term. Getting Colome for 2 years is an example of that.

Q: Grandal is number 1 for catchers in catcher runs saved the last three years. Realmuto is 2nd to last at -25. Grandal’s number is +39. Grandal also has a great OBP for offensive catching standards. With all the attention being centered around Realmuto, can the Sox sign Grandal? — Scott Zablocki (@mr_zablocki)

CG: J.T. Realmuto has 2 years left on his contract. Probably not enough time to part ways with precious prospects anyway considering the White Sox window. I don’t see that happening.Grandal is a free agent. On paper, signing him seems more plausible, but then you’re completly shaking up the catcher position. You then have to trade Castillo, and what about the futures for Collins and Zavala, who the White Sox still believe in? I’m not saying the White Sox wouldn’t do it, but it would definitely be a sudden left turn.

Q: The Mets made a deal with the Mariners for Diaz with the Cano contract attached. Do you think the Sox could get involved with helping them move the underwater Seager deal (potentially still useful for us) attached to Haniger? That would be a nice deal. I would move a non-Eloy for. —Dayton Cripe  (@daycri83)

CG: Getting an All-Star right fielder like Mitch Haniger would be great for the White Sox. He’d fit right in with the plan. But taking on third baseman Kyle Seager and his contract (3 years, $57.5 million) feels like a sunk cost the White Sox wouldn’t want to acquire. While Seager is incredibly durable (he’s played at least 154 games in 7 consecutive seasons), his offensive numbers continue to drop. Last season, he bottomed out at .221/.273/.400. Third base is like a Rubik’s Cube for the White Sox. There are many possibilities for next season and beyond, from Machado to Moncada to Yolmer to Burger to Arenado to Donaldson, etc. However, I’m not sure I see them solving third base with Seager.

Q: What do you think about...
1. Trading a “B” tier prospect for Zack Grienke. (White Sox not on his no trade list, 3 years left on deal)
2. Signing Jonathan Schoop, 1 year prove it deal to bridge until Madrigal arrives. 
3. Does delmonico get the chance to prove himself as a starter? — Kaz Daddy (@AaronKaczmarksi)

CG: As much as I like Greinke, he’s entering the danger zone for a starting pitcher. He’ll be 35 this season. I’d be willing to take a risk on him at 35, but not at $35 million a year. If the Diamondbacks will eat about half his salary, that would help, but Arizona will want a lot more than a “B” tier prospect. As for Schoop, he’s a bit like Avisail Garcia: All-Star in 2017, rough season in 2018. Garcia is one year older. If Schoop isn’t signed until late in the winter and the White Sox haven’t found a third baseman, maybe then you sign Schoop to a 1-year contract and move Moncada to third. Finally, Delmonico got a chance to prove himself last season, but unfortunately he got hurt and couldn’t build on his 2017 season. It’s tough to say at this point where he fits in next season. As the founder of the Nicky Delmonico Fan Club, I’m hoping he sticks around and gets another chance, even if it’s off the bench.

Q: On a recent White Sox Talk podcast, you said that the Sox should aim for Moustakas. I think that would be a total step backwards for the franchise. Do you really believe that would be a smart move for the Sox now!? — Orlando Quintana (@LandoJQuintana)

CG: Sometimes when you think out loud on a podcast, you later realize that you might have been wrong, or in this case, partly wrong. On Episode 176, I said that despite their attempts to sign Manny Machado and possibly Nolan Arenado or Anthony Rendon next offseason, the more realistic third base option for the White Sox might end up being Moustakas, because it’s not as easy to sign big-name free agents as it looks. I still believe that. But after thinking it over, I explained on the very next podcast, Episode 177, that Moustakas wouldn’t fit with the White Sox long term, because if they don’t get one of the premium free agent third basemen, Moncada will likely end up there. I can’t see them signing Moustakas long-term if Madrigal hits at second base and they have someone like Moncada who can play third. I can change my mind, can’t I? Thanks for listening to the podcast!

Q: How great is it going to be to have a Eloy, Pollock, Harper OF next year? — Michael Ricciotti (@Be_Like_Mike20)

CG: Can’t wait. World Series here we come!

Q: Let’s say the Sox don’t make any other significant moves by Opening Day. With the roster as it is now, what’s the Opening Day lineup, especially at RF and DH? — Bill (@hitless1)

CG: I think Daniel Palka is the DH. I have no idea who plays right field. To be determined.

Q: I want to know what’s on Rick Hahn’s mind. What’s next? — Mr. Rock Opera (@MrRockOpera)

CG: I’d like to know as well! Although I don’t mind the suspense. Hang in there! Winter Meetings are next week, by the way.  

Q: Who do you think is an underrated prospect in the White Sox system that people might be overlooking? — awkward standing klay (@klaymemeson)

CG:  One prospect you shouldn’t overlook is Micker Adolfo. I wrote about him last week.

I’ll give you two more:  Luis Gonzalez and Gavin Sheets. They’re ranked 14th and 15th in the White Sox system according to MLB Pipeline, so it’s not like they’re off the radar, but when people talk about the White Sox future teams, you don’t usually hear either guy mentioned. Sheets, the White Sox second round pick in 2017, is a left-handed first baseman who slashed .293/.368/.407 last season at Class-A Winston-Salem. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he has the build to mash a lot of home runs (he hit 20 in 227 at-bats in his final year at Wake Forest), but the power has yet to arrive in the minors. If it does, look out. He’s one to watch this season. Gonzalez was drafted behind Sheets in the third round in 2017. He’s a grinder type who can play all three outfield spots. He hit .313/.376/.504 for Winston-Salem last season. I’m interested to see how both of them develop as the move up in the farm system.

Q: Two years ago was Delmonico, this year was Palka, who will the surprise breakout player be for the Sox in 2019? — Jake Horning (@JArthur)

CG:  That’s a good question, and a tough one to answer this early in the offseason. Matt Skole is a possibility. Get back to me in spring training!

Q: How long term is Moncada? do you see him being a long-term consistent, franchise player, or do you think he’ll go with one of these inevitable big time trades in the near future. — Kyle Schultz (@kyle_eschultz)

CG: Baseball can be a tough, unpredictable game. Trying to define who a player is and who he will become is very difficult, especially when you’re talking about a 23-year-old like Moncada who just completed his first full season in the big leagues. Despite his struggles last season, Moncada still had 55 extra base hits, that’s 11 more than Jose Altuve. When Moncada makes contact, he can do serious damage. He has the talent to become a franchise player who you keep as opposed to trade. Let’s see how he does in 2019. 

Q: Are you going to be reporting from the field again this year and if so, you need to let us know what games you are doing and come out to the tailgating! — Rob Landeck (@RLandeck66)

CG: Yes, I’ll be back on the field again, reporting for all the home games on NBC Sports Chicago. You tailgating?? I’m in!

Q: How many socks fit in the Sox drawer? — Brett Bauer (@DoubleB72)

CG: About 20.

And finally!

Q:  When will we be good? — Ryan Kelly (@rkelly1122)

CG: 2019 is possible. 2020 is more realistic. Better days are ahead!

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Javy Baez loses out on NL MVP to Christian Yelich

Javy Baez loses out on NL MVP to Christian Yelich

Javy Baez had an absolutely fantastic 2018 campaign, but he is not the National League MVP.

Brewers star Christian Yelich was deemed the best player in the Senior Circuit, receiving 29 of the 30 first-place votes. Baez finished second with no first-place votes. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado finished third after leading the NL in homers (38) and posting a .935 OPS for a Colorado team that lost out on the division in Game 163 and then beat the Cubs in the NL Wild-Card Game.

It may not be popular with Cubs fans who love them some Javy, but it's easy to see why Yelich will take home the highest yearly honor.

The 26-year-old outfielder enjoyed a special season, leading the league in OPS (1.000), batting average (.326) and WAR (7.6 — FanGraphs), finishing 1.3 WAR above the next highest guy (Anthony Rendon — 6.3). For reference, Baez notched a 5.3 WAR.

Baez led the NL in RBI (111) and was among the league leaders in nearly every offensive category while also filling a huge role for the Cubs playing very good defense all over the infield (104 games at second base, 65 at shortstop, 22 at third base and even played an out at first base). 

It's easy to say Baez was the Cubs' most important and valuable player in 2018 and there's no way they win 95 games or maintain a share of first place through Game 162 without his contributions.

But the Brewers surged past the Cubs in the NL Central in large part because of Yelich, who slashed .372/.451/.762 (1.213 OPS) from July 14 on, driving in 68 runs and hitting 25 homers in only 68 games. He was even hotter over the last two weeks of the season — posting a .488/.621/1.116 slash line (1.737 OPS) while Milwaukee went 11-2 and caught the Cubs from behind. 

With both players under contract through at least the 2021 season in the same division, it'll be interesting to see if they can build off their breakout campaigns and continue to battle against each other for future NL MVP voting.