It's no secret that Nick Madrigal is expected to be the White Sox starting second baseman for the majority of the 2020 season and the foreseeable future beyond.
The team spent the No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft on a guy who was considered the best all-around player in college baseball for a reason, and their confidence in him has been shared by evaluators around the game. He's currently ranked as the No. 40 prospect in baseball with rave reviews for his uncanny inability to strikeout and his exceptional defensive abilities at second base.
But it's not sounding likely that Madrigal will land on the White Sox roster when the season begins March 26. He played in just 29 games at Triple-A Charlotte last season, and general manager Rick Hahn said last month during his pre-SoxFest press conference that Madrigal "hasn't necessarily answered all the questions we have for him at the minor leagues."
Hahn left the door open to Madrigal being able to impress enough that he changes the minds of White Sox brass, but right now, the most likely outcome for the Opening Day second base job is a combination of reserves Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick. Considering the wealth of upgrades made elsewhere around the diamond this winter, moves by Hahn's front office that have placed realistic playoff expectations on these White Sox, the idea of a Garcia-Mendick timeshare at second until Madrigal is ready has left some fans wanting.
Why not add a short-term upgrade for the period between Opening Day and Madrigal's promotion who can also provide a solid off-the-bench bat once Madrigal takes over in an everyday role?
And there are undoubtedly options still remaining on the free-agent market. Brock Holt slashed .297/.369/.402 last season with the Boston Red Sox and played seven different positions, displaying the kind of versatility that has continued to make Garcia an important piece of the White Sox reserve unit. Brian Dozier had a .340 on-base percentage and chipped in 20 home runs as part of the Washington Nationals' world-championship squad. The White Sox ought to know him well, as he blasted 22 homers off them as a longtime Minnesota Twin. Scooter Gennett was an All Star in 2018. Ben Zobrist in a two-time World Series winner. Jason Kipnis is a Chicago-area native with a deep knowledge of the AL Central.
Well, that's certainly a fine thing to wish for. It just might not be very realistic.
"Are there spots on this roster where we could add reinforcements that would put us in a stronger position? Absolutely," Hahn told Our Chuck Garfien in an interview before SoxFest. "And those are the things that keep me up at night and will continue to for the foreseeable future.
"But you also have to look at it from the player's perspective. Seeing Nick Madrigal coming, it might not be the most appealing place to come. We can explain to them how we view Nick. And we've been pretty candid publicly about how we view Nick and the excitement we have for Nick, but also the uncertainty about when that's going to start. But in the end, a free agent has to make a decision about, 'This is my personal best opportunity to maximize my future.'
"So that's my kind of long-winded way of saying, yeah there's guys available, but it's a two-way street and it's not necessarily something you should count on seeing us convert on."
And that makes plenty of sense. Heck, we might have just seen that exact scenario play out with former White Sox fan favorite Yolmer Sanchez. He seemed like a solid candidate to fit the kind of role plenty are suggesting: serve as the starting second baseman until Madrigal comes up, then take on a backup infielder role.
But Sanchez, who won a Gold Glove for his defensive work in 2019, just signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants, reportedly turning down major league offers to be a backup so he could compete for the starting job with the Giants.
Free-agent 2B Yolmer Sánchez in agreement with #SFGiants on minor-league deal, source tells The Athletic. Turned down major-league offers for chance to be everyday starter at second base.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 28, 2020
Now, it's unknown whether the White Sox were one of the teams to offer Sanchez a major league deal for a reserve role. They were not shy about expressing their affinity for him after he was a positive clubhouse presence for the past six seasons on the South Side. What they did not have for him, though, was a long-term — or even season-long — starting job. In signing with the Giants, he at least has a shot at achieving that.
And while some of the names listed above have been in reserve roles before and might be up to them again, how much playing time — even as a backup — truly exists on a White Sox infield that has young stars on the left side in Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson and an up-and-coming youngster in Madrigal at second base? Even a part-time role might be hard to sell considering how infrequent starts might be at those three positions.
And so as Hahn's front office mulls smaller additions to polish off a roster that could be contending for the postseason in 2020, it might not be as easy as plucking some remaining options off the free-agent market. In the end, it's a good problem to have, as Madrigal looks to be a long-term solution at the position.