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.
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.