The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.
With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.
First base opened the series. Here, we’re moving on to second base.
What happened in 2019
Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez flipped positions ahead of the season, with Sanchez taking over at second base and playing terrific defense there. Sanchez ranked highly in a ton of defensive categories and might wind up a Gold Glove winner.
But because of a less-than-stellar bat — he finished with a .252/.318/.321 slash line, that slugging percentage by far the lowest among baseball’s qualified second baseman — all eyes were on the future in the minor leagues.
Nick Madrigal, who the White Sox selected with the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft, had himself an exceptional season playing at three different minor league levels. In his first full year as a pro, he showed off his most notable trait, a superhuman ability to avoid striking out, fanning just 16 times in 532 trips to the plate. He ended up slashing .311/.377/.414, and while that slugging percentage could be a bit of a big league bugaboo for him, too, the average and on-base percentage delivered much what was expected of an advanced college bat.
Back in the bigs, Danny Mendick finally got a chance at a taste of the major leagues, getting 12 hits, including a couple homers, in 40 plate appearances scattered across 16 games in September.
What will happen this offseason
The White Sox have a decision to make on Sanchez, who is slated for another raise in the arbitration process. It all depends on what kind of role they envision for him, and with Madrigal coming fast, that role wouldn’t figure to be that of an everyday player.
In fact, general manager Rick Hahn went as far as saying that he expects Madrigal to be the team’s second baseman for much of the 2020 season, signaling that Sanchez’s only way onto the roster would be as a utility man off the bench.
That would certainly be a positive thing for the White Sox, to utilize his excellent defense at a variety of infield positions late in games. But will that be worth the money? Sanchez made more than $4.5 million in 2019 and will make more in 2020 if he goes to arbitration. If the team deems that too expensive for a utility man off the bench, Sanchez could get non-tendered.
For what it’s worth, manager Rick Renteria had high praise for Sanchez as the season wrapped up over the weekend.
“Here's a guy who brings all the energy in the world,” he said. “A tremendous defender. Puts together some at-bats, has had some timely at-bats for us. ... He does a lot of little things that help you win offensively. He's been something kind of special for us.”
Madrigal, though, is hyped as having a similarly excellent level of defensive skill, and it might be enough to let Sanchez’s glove go.
One player who could factor into all this is Leury Garcia, who spent almost the entirety of the 2019 season in the outfield. He has the versatility to play just about everywhere on the diamond, second base included, and it would not be surprising to see the White Sox bring him back as a utility man off the bench in 2020.
The White Sox might pursue a second baseman from outside the organization, but again, it likely wouldn’t be someone slated for the everyday job there. If they do add someone, it would be as a bench player who would play second base until Madrigal is ready to come up from the minors.
What to expect for 2020 and beyond
Madrigal, the No. 4 prospect in the organization, has been ticketed as the second baseman of the future since the White Sox moved Moncada to third base in February, and his strong season in the minors in 2019 only solidified that.
Madrigal will likely arrive in the majors during the early portion of the 2020 schedule. Pending the kind of contract Eloy Jimenez signed during spring training in 2019, lingering service-time issues mean it’s likely we won’t see Madrigal or Luis Robert until mid-to-late April.
Of course, it’s possible that Madrigal’s debut is a little after Robert’s, as Hahn alluded to during his end-of-season press conference last week.
“I don't know when exactly Luis Robert will arrive come 2020 or when Nick Madrigal will arrive in 2020. I would say based upon their seasons, probably have Luis a tick ahead of Nick in terms of projected arrival time,” Hahn said. “But we'll see how they show up in camp and how that unfolds.
“I think we can sit here and say that similar to Eloy a year ago, that we expect Luis Robert to be playing center field for most if not all of the 2020 season. Nick Madrigal playing second base? Probably most of the 2020 season. But let's wait and see how he comes to camp and what this offseason holds.”
And so the only question, really, is who will play second base until Madrigal reaches the majors. Garcia would be a prime candidate should he be back in a White Sox uniform in 2020. Mendick could also be kept on the 40-man roster and used as the second baseman at the major league level until Madrigal is ready to debut.
But Madrigal figures to be the guy at that position for a long time on the South Side.