Tim Anderson

Is the White Sox third baseman of the future already on the major league roster?

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USA TODAY

Is the White Sox third baseman of the future already on the major league roster?

The White Sox future at third base is a pretty big unknown.

Jake Burger is only a year and a half removed from being a first-round draft pick, but the double Achilles tear earlier this year has not just derailed his 2018 but thrown his entire future, and with it the White Sox future at the hot corner, into question. How will the injuries affect Burger's timeline to the majors? How will it affect his ability to play third base?

Those questions and the seeming lack of any other high-end third-base prospect in the White Sox system have made it seem rather obvious that the rebuilding White Sox third baseman of the future currently isn't a part of the organization.

The free-agent lists White Sox fans are salivating over have some pretty intriguing names on them. Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado, who wants to play shortstop but is a two-time Gold Glove winner at third, are free agents this winter. So are less-heralded guys like Mike Moustakas and Marwin Gonzalez, who counts third baseman as one of his many job titles for the Houston Astros. Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon are free agents the following offseason. Those are big names, any one of which could be a cherry on top for the White Sox as they plan to shift from rebuilding to contending.

But what if the White Sox already have their third baseman of the future? What if he's already on the major league roster?

No, sorry, this isn't about Yolmer Sanchez. It's about Yoan Moncada, to which you might react thusly: "Wait a minute. Yoan Moncada is a second baseman! Learn to count your bases, Duber!"

My rarely utilized math skills aside, Moncada switching positions has been a bit of a talking point for a little while now, and it has far more to do with what's going on in the farm system than it has to do with Moncada's 2018 season in the major leagues.

The White Sox spent their first-round draft pick on a middle infielder in June despite having two supposed long-term pieces in Moncada and Tim Anderson already playing in the big leagues. Nick Madrigal's versatility on the infield was part of the praise the White Sox heaped on him after making him the No. 4 pick in the draft, but for a guy who's been discussed as a Gold Glove type of defender at either second base or shortstop, it kind of seems like that would be the best place to put him. Now, Madrigal's not exactly knocking on the doors of the major leagues, yet to play his first full season of pro ball, but the White Sox dubbed him the "best all-around player in college baseball" this summer, leading one to believe that his development could move along quickly enough to get him to the majors by the time that much-anticipated shift from rebuilding to contending happens.

If that's the case, either Moncada or Anderson would have to move, right? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe the White Sox end up liking Madrigal at third or elsewhere, but he's playing middle infield in the minor leagues.

Anderson moving to the outfield was a favorite suggestion of White Sox Twitter after he led baseball with 28 fielding errors in 2017. He made 20 more in 2018 (fourth most in baseball), but his defensive improvement by the end of the season was one of the biggest positives to take from the 100-loss campaign.

"That’s the thing that really jumps out the most in terms of significant progress he’s made," Rick Hahn said of Anderson's defense during his end-of-season press conference last month. "He’s managed to capitalize on the athleticism we’ve always seen from him and convert that into being a potentially, frankly Gold Glove-caliber defensive shortstop based on what we’ve seen over the last few months.

"This is really a testament in the end to Tim Anderson’s work ethic. He knew it was an area that he wanted to improve, whether it was because he wanted to show people wrong or because he knew he wanted to make himself a stalwart at that position and eliminate the rumors about position change. He worked extraordinarily hard both with Joe McEwing and the things he did on his own, and the kid deserves a world of credit and I think it bodes very well for him continuing on the trajectory of becoming an impact shortstop."

It doesn't sound like Hahn is describing a guy who will be moving away from his position any time soon.

Moncada racked up a good deal of errors at second base in his first full season in the majors — 21 of them, to be exact, the third most in baseball — but Hahn and Rick Renteria both said they noticed improvement from Moncada in the field. But Moncada did tell the Sun-Times' Daryl Van Schouwen during the season that he would be willing to make a position switch if the team wanted him to do it.

Hahn got a similar question during his year-end press conference. Though the general manager wasn't directly asked if Moncada would make a position switch, Hahn said Moncada could defend well at other positions on the diamond and that if such a change were desired, the team would probably make it sooner rather than later.

"It’s conceivable if we made a decision as an organization to try him elsewhere that we would do it as soon as this offseason or next spring training, you’d see it in action," Hahn said. "I do think he has made a great deal of process at second base. I also think he has the athleticism also to be an above-average defender at other positions, too. It’s a subject for further conversation, but as he sits here today, I am pleased with the progress and the pitch-to-pitch focus and the athleticism, the arm strength and foot movement and his hands at second base."

White Sox fans aren't super high on Moncada being the savior of anything, not just third base, right now after his disappointing 2018 season: a .235/.315/.400 slash line and 217 strikeouts, the fourth-highest single-season total in major league history. But that's not souring the White Sox on his potential, and it's not changing what they think he can be.

By 2020 or 2021, perhaps Moncada's evolution as a big league ballplayer puts him on a similar level as some of the free-agent names mentioned above. Perhaps he's already playing third base by then with Madrigal on the major league infield, too.

The White Sox seem to have a hole at third base, with popular opinion being that it can only be filled by a marquee free agent. Maybe it does get filled this offseason — by a guy standing about 100 feet away.

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

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USA TODAY

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

"It's a dirty play by a dirty player."

That was Christian Yelich, the all-but-sure-to-be NL MVP, describing Manny Machado, who's about to become one of the best-paid players in baseball history, after Game 4 of the NLCS, a game in which Machado once again grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Machado's Los Angeles Dodgers and Yelich's Milwaukee Brewers have played four games in this NLCS, and after three of them, the focus has been on Machado. Not because of his bat or his glove but because of lack of hustle and certain methods on the base paths that weren't exactly on the up and up.

After Game 2, he was criticized for not hustling on a ground ball to shortstop. In something straight out of a public-relations person's nightmare, he defended himself by saying that hustling really isn't his cup of tea. During Game 3, he twice attempted to break up double plays by interfering at second base and was, upon review, busted for it the second time. In extra innings in Game 4, he appeared to intentionally drag his leg across Jesus Aguilar's at first base. That play cleared the benches, got Machado called "dirty" in the Brewers' clubhouse and earned him the reputation of postseason villain.

And so Machado's impending free agency gets to be discussed in a brand new light. There's now more baggage attached to the 26-year-old superstar with a fantastic bat and a stellar glove.

The question is: Will the White Sox, one of many teams that could be mulling a contract offer worth hundreds of millions of dollars, care?

As much as it’s talked about building a perennial contender of the future by developing the on-field skills of their fleet of highly touted prospects, the White Sox brain trust has discussed developing a culture, a way of doing things, to go along with all that talent and all that skill. Unsurprisingly that conversation has focused on the oft-used phrase of “doing things the right way.”

Does what Machado has been doing count as “doing things the right way”? It seems easy to assess that it doesn't. It's far more difficult to determine whether it will end up making a difference or not.

Not hustling is one of Rick Renteria's biggest bugaboos. He sat down multiple players on multiple occasions throughout the 2018 season — starting with Avisail Garcia in a spring training game and including a veteran like Welington Castillo as well as a young star like Tim Anderson — for not running to first base on pop ups and line outs and ground outs. Would Renteria's tune suddenly change if Machado and his preference for not hustling arrived on the South Side in what would surely be the biggest free-agent deal in club history?

Renteria got fired up over the issue at the end of July, when he benched Anderson for not hustling on what the shortstop believed was a line out.

“We tell these guys, don’t assume anything. ... It’s as simple as that, and he understands it. He knows it. We’ve talked about it. He comes out of the box, he doesn’t stand there. But we just reiterated to make sure that you allow the umpires to make the calls and you allow the other clubs to go ahead and ask for reviews. We run.”

But asked about not running out his ground ball in Game 2, Machado shared pretty much the opposite philosophy.

"Obviously I'm not going to change, I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle,' and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen," Machado told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. "That's just not my personality, that's not my cup of tea, that's not who I am."

What about Machado's interferences at second base? It was that exact play that sent Anderson into an on-field tiff with umpire Joe West during the second Crosstown series of the season just last month. Javy Baez slid into second base, and Anderson thought Baez did something he shouldn't have, raising his arm to interfere with a double-play turn, that sequence of events ending with Anderson screaming at West on the field. Would Anderson be cool with playing alongside — and potentially vacating his position at shortstop for — an infamous interferer?

And what about being a "dirty player," a villain? The White Sox always seemed fine — heck, they loved it — having one of baseball's greatest irritants in A.J. Pierzynski on the roster. Perhaps no player wore the "villain" title as a badge of honor more than the catcher on the 2005 World Series team. But remember that Pierzynski took the punch, he didn't throw it. Being baseball's version of a "villain" and being a guy who makes dangerous plays that could hurt somebody are two different things.

The point being: Do Machado's actions in this postseason series make him anathema to the "Ricky's boys don't quit" mantra? If the White Sox were to turn a blind eye to the events of this NLCS, would it qualify as a betrayal of their quest to establish a high-effort, high-character culture?

Or do they value that culture so much that they stay away from Machado this offseason?

Here's Rick Hahn from September of last year.

"It’s the culture that Ricky and his coaching staff have been able to create in that clubhouse. I cannot tell you how many various fans have stopped me, or emailed me or mentioned to me that they’ve never been this excited over a 60-win team. Or they’ve never been excited about a team that isn’t going to the playoffs. And I think so much of that is based on how Ricky and the coaches have them playing day in and day out. You see them fighting for 27 outs, you see them prepared every night. Sure, we’re going to get out-manned at portions during this process, but the fight and competitiveness and the style of play is the kind of thing that is going to endure year in and year out. And that is extremely important for us to establish at the big league level for all of us."

Machado's talent would make any team he's a part of more competitive. But for the White Sox, who talk an awful lot about hustling and refusing to quit, perhaps all these postseason shenanigans make it so Machado just isn't their cup of tea.

Tim Anderson's eventful day at the yard ends with shot at Joe West: 'Everybody knows he's terrible'

Tim Anderson's eventful day at the yard ends with shot at Joe West: 'Everybody knows he's terrible'

Talk about an eventful night at the ol' ballpark for Tim Anderson.

It looked like it was going to be a day worth celebrating for Anderson, whose developmental progress reached a milestone during the third inning of Saturday's Crosstown matchup with the Cubs. He hit his 20th home run of the season, becoming the first White Sox shortstop ever to have a season with at least 20 homers and at least 20 stolen bases.

A heck of a feat, one that should stand out when White Sox fans and observers spend the offseason discussing whether or not Anderson truly is this franchise's shortstop of the future.

But the ump show came and overshadowed all that.

The Cubs were in the process of extending their lead in the ninth inning, putting things out of reach, when the White Sox attempted a double play on an Anthony Rizzo groundball. Anderson got the force out at second base and attempted the turn in the presence of a sliding Javy Baez. His throw went nowhere near first base, going down as an error that allowed another run to score.

After the play was over, Rick Renteria challenged, spurring a review to see if Baez violated the rules by reaching his arm out in an attempt to impede Anderson from making the play. The review determined Baez did not do that. Anderson disagreed, and a conversation with famed umpire Joe West followed.

"I asked him a question, and he kind of got pissed at me," Anderson said of his interaction with West. "I asked him if he saw him reach for my leg in the replay. He asked me if I was going to argue that, and I said, ‘No, I was just asking a question.’ And after that I didn’t say anything else. He started barking at me. Kept staring me down. I gave him, 'Why you keep looking at me?' Did that twice and threw me out."

Anderson was ejected, and he was visibly livid on the field, screaming at West in the immediate aftermath of the ejection. Renteria came out after Anderson started making his way toward the dugout, still yelling, and was ejected, as well.

Now, White Sox fans are no stranger to West, who famously — or infamously, if you're a White Sox supporter — called a couple of balks on Mark Buehrle and ejected both Buehrle and Ozzie Guillen in a 2010 game against the Cleveland Indians, sending announcer Hawk Harrelson into an on-air rant against West: "He's becoming a joke to the umpiring profession."

But the White Sox are far from the only team to have their run-ins with West. Anderson was obviously familiar with West's reputation, taking a shot after the game.

"I don’t have much to say about him. Everybody knows he’s terrible," Anderson said. "But I didn’t say much and he threw me out. It’s OK."

Additionally, Anderson was adamant that Baez did indeed move his hand in violation of the sliding rules at second base — and added the review officials in New York to his criticism list.

"Yeah, definitely. You could see it in the replay," Anderson said. "That’s just one of the many that they missed in New York, I guess."

And so an eventful night for Anderson.

His criticisms of the officials will undoubtedly overshadow his joining the 20-homer club and standing alone in the White Sox 20-20 club. But those are just further examples on Anderson's growth as a player this season.

Yes, the error he made on that play was his 19th of the season, putting him among the league leaders in that category after he led baseball with 28 fielding errors last season. But he now has career highs in home runs, RBIs, stolen bases, doubles and walks. And his fielding has been noticeably improved over the last month or so, a result of the work he's put in with Joe McEwing.

This weekend, Anderson generated headlines with an argument with an umpire. This winter, he'll be generating discussion by what he's done on the field. And the latter has been impressive.

"I’ve been able to take my game to another level," he said. "I just have to continue to grow and just keep learning and keep working hard."