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The story of the spring: How Manny Machado's decision affects the White Sox present and future

The story of the spring: How Manny Machado's decision affects the White Sox present and future

GLENDALE, Ariz. — No matter how much the players in the clubhouse want to move on from Manny Mania, there’s no doubting that Manny Machado’s decision to play for the San Diego Padres — or rather, his decision not to play for the White Sox — has been the defining storyline of the first couple weeks of spring training here at Camelback Ranch.

The White Sox will move on. The front office will dust itself off and go after big names again. The players will play with a 25-man roster and nine guys in the batting order, just like they would have. And, yes, even the angry corners of White Sox Twitter will forget Machado one day, which figures to be easy to do once Eloy Jimenez is crushing homers out of Guaranteed Rate Field.

But the 2019 season and those after it will be viewed through this lens, one where the White Sox missed out on an opportunity to sign one of the best players in baseball. Machado opting for the sunny skies of Southern California does not preclude the White Sox from living out Rick Hahn’s wildest rebuilding dreams, nor does it mean a premium free agent will never sign on the South Side. But it does have its obvious effects on the present and future of this franchise.

Here’s a look at some of those effects.

The White Sox will not be as good in 2019 as they would’ve been with Machado

Obvious, I know.

Machado would’ve done a lot of things for the White Sox, and the biggest allure of signing him was that he would’ve done those things for the better part of the next decade. While fans would have been amped to see Machado in action for the 2019 season, he was a White Sox target because as a 26-year-old superstar, he meshed pretty perfectly with their long-term plans.

Had Machado signed with the White Sox, though, he would have made them better in the immediate. He’s coming off a career year in which he slashed .297/.367/.538 with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs. Adding that to any lineup is going to make a pretty big difference.

And while Hahn has talked often about the idea of it being perhaps “a year early” for the still-rebuilding White Sox to be jumping at a free agent that would help vault them into contention mode, a weak AL Central and American League in general provided — and perhaps still does provide — an opportunity to make a surprise run at the postseason. With Machado in the fold, that might have been an even more realistic possibility.

It’s not to say the White Sox still couldn’t threaten to be in the wild-card mix later on this season. But without Machado, that seems to be a significantly taller task. Hahn made many noteworthy additions, but this roster is made up of many of the same players who lost 100 games last season. Another developmental year wouldn’t be at all surprising and would in fact be expected if you look at the recent history of successful rebuilds. The Cubs lost an average of 95 games a season in the first three years of Theo Epstein’s rebuild. The Houston Astros lost an average of 104 games a season in the four years leading up to their ascension to perennial power.

Without Machado, another developmental year — even one with highlights like the arrivals of Jimenez and Dylan Cease — looks more likely than a year early surprise.

Yoan Moncada is the third baseman of the present and future

The biggest on-field development of camp to this point is the White Sox moving full steam ahead with switching Moncada to third base, which was discussed as an option throughout the offseason but never committed to until position players reported to Glendale and Moncada started taking ground balls at the hot corner.

Machado would have been the obvious fit there had he signed with the White Sox, and his saying he’ll play third with the Padres (who are set to install former White Sox prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. as their shortstop of the future) pretty much confirms that he would have played there on the South Side, too.

Instead, it’ll be Moncada, who moves over from second base a season after committing 21 errors, the fourth-highest total in baseball last season. Rick Renteria has been extremely positive about Moncada’s work there so far this spring (it’s only been a couple days, and there’ll be a ton more to go on once games start this weekend), and the White Sox are hopeful Moncada can handle the job, with Renteria going as far to say that the increased focus Moncada will need to play third will help him offensively after he struck out 217 times last season.

We’ll see how things go in both aspects of Moncada’s game, but one thing is for sure: Without Machado, the team’s future at third base remains a question mark. There’s no slam-dunk answer there for the long term. Moncada could easily become that, of course, as the White Sox are still incredibly high on his ceiling and his future. But it’s a mystery as of this moment. Thanks to Jake Burger’s double Achilles tears last year, there are no obvious answers in the minor leagues, either. So it’s Moncada.

Machado passing on the White Sox also means we’ll likely be talking about third base again next offseason, no matter how well Moncada might do this season. Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon are part of a loaded free-agent class.

For better or worse, we’ll have to do this free-agent thing again next offseason

I don’t know what the White Sox big board looks like, so I don’t know if Machado is their favorite player in baseball or not. Meaning, maybe any addition from here on out, no matter how big a name, is a consolation prize, or maybe it gives them an opportunity to chase someone they like better. Regardless of which of those two things is true, we’ll likely have to go through all this free-agent business again with the White Sox next offseason.

Thankfully, the class is jam-packed, featuring the aforementioned Arenado and Rendon as well as Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Verlander, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner, Didi Gregorius and Marcell Ozuna. You can spend forever debating whether any of those guys are as good as Machado. But there’s little argument over the fact that those are a lot of very good baseball players.

Hahn has promised perennial aggressiveness from the White Sox on the free-agent market and in the pursuits of the biggest names and best players in the game. Here’s what he said at SoxFest:

"We belong at the table in these negotiations, we belong as part of negotiations for premium talent. And regardless what happens over the next several weeks with either of these two players (Machado and the still-jobless Bryce Harper), we plan to be at the table and continue to attempt to convert on these guys."

Fans currently stinging over the White Sox getting outbid by the Padres for Machado might choose not to believe Hahn’s promise until they see it in action. But Hahn, in his comments all offseason long and here at spring training, has promised that the White Sox will utilize their financial flexibility in the pursuits of big-name talent. So expect to see them as a featured player next winter as much as they were this winter.

But how will that process be different?

Fans right now are unconvinced that the White Sox will ever be willing to spend enough to land a marquee free agent like Machado, and Machado taking the $300 million guaranteed over the $250 million guaranteed in the White Sox offer has done little to change what Hahn has referred to as a “false narrative.”

The White Sox certainly believed their offer was good enough to get Machado to the South Side, that much was clear by the visible emotions of both Hahn and Kenny Williams on Tuesday. But after losing out in this sweepstakes, will they be able to change that narrative next time around?

Unfortunately, the answer is only if they land a big fish. Certainly, the White Sox were not “cheap” in their pursuit of Machado, as many fans have accused them of being. A commitment to spend $350 million on a player is, by definition, not cheap.

But if they’re in on Arenado or Rendon or Bumgarner or Martinez or any of the players listed above, will they approach things differently? Hahn said there is no magic number of a limit where the White Sox will not spend and said there is no overarching organizational philosophy on opt-outs. And he’s promised that the money saved up for runs at these free agents will be spent, not “sitting around waiting to just accumulate interest.”

Hahn and his front office is rarely one to succumb to pressure from antsy fans. If that was the case, Jimenez would have been a big leaguer long ago. But you wonder how much the desire to add a “finishing piece,” something that’s been part of the rebuilding plan all along, will play into next winter’s pursuits or trade talks at other points in the calendar.

Those aren’t answers we have right now. They’ll come out on the next free-agent go-round.

The White Sox will definitely take their time with their top prospects

There was little doubt this was going to happen, regardless of Machado’s decision. But there was a possibility, as discussed above, that Machado could’ve improved things enough to quicken the timeline of the team’s contention phase. And if that were the case, would the White Sox have felt the need to exhibit a little less patience and try to get some of their top prospects to the majors a little quicker?

That question can’t be answered with anything more than a “maybe,” but now that Machado is in San Diego, it would seem the White Sox will most definitely stick to their rebuilding playbook.

Cease is probably the player this applies to the most. All signs point to Jimenez arriving in the major leagues a couple weeks into the 2019 season, so his timeline is unaffected by this whole thing. Cease, though, starts the 2019 season in a similar spot to where Michael Kopech was a year ago. He’ll likely spend start at Triple-A Charlotte after a dazzling 2018 split between Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, but the White Sox will give him every opportunity there, just like they did with Kopech last year. Kopech didn’t make his big league debut until August. It seems Cease is on a similar timeline, especially now that, without Machado, there might be no playoff race to leap into. We’ll have to see about that one.

Luis Robert is still so inexperienced in the minor leagues after last year’s injury-plagued campaign. Dane Dunning will be eased into things coming back from his injury; he’s not even in big league camp this spring. Nick Madrigal is a bit more of a question mark, considering the “best all-around player in college baseball” should be able to move through the system a little quicker than someone who wasn’t described in that fashion. But there’s no reason to rush him. Zack Collins could make his big league debut in 2019, but perhaps not until when rosters expand in September.

But, again, with no reason to bump these guys along quicker than necessary, why rush them? Especially if Machado’s absence means the rebuild is on a less rapid timeline.

Does Machado’s decision give current White Sox a chip on the shoulder?

White Sox players were pretty committed to one message on Machado throughout the offseason: It’d be great if Machado came to the South Side, but if he doesn’t, no big deal.

Not exactly the same way White Sox fans feel right now.

But these players have spoken for the last couple weeks about how much faith they have in the current roster — and how much urgency might be seeping in. They’ve heard about the future for a long time and think maybe it’s time to start talking about the present, too.

“I’m sick of losing,” Lucas Giolito said.

“There's a point in time where it’s s**t for get off the pot,” Carlos Rodon said.

And Tim Anderson has been leading the charge. He was the most vocal during the White Sox pursuit of Machado, defensive and adamant about his desire to remain the team’s starting shortstop. In the wake of Machado’s decision, he stood up for his group.

“We’re going to be South Side regardless. Nobody’s decision determines what we’ve got going on in this locker room," he said. "I feel we have a great group of guys here. We’re going to do something special. The White Sox are moving in the right direction. One decision won’t dictate our season.

“We’re going to keep rolling. Either ride with us or get run over. We know who’s on the boat with us and which way we want to sail.”

They won’t necessarily admit to Machado’s decision giving them added hunger, added motivation or an added chip on their collective shoulder. But these White Sox have something they want to prove. And in addition to proving it to fans and observers who are still waiting for 2020, maybe they can prove it to Machado, too.

“He might have,” Anderson said when asked if Machado missed the boat by not signing up with the White Sox.

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White Sox vs. Red Sox simulation on MLB The Show 20 (Game 9)

White Sox vs. Red Sox simulation on MLB The Show 20 (Game 9)

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

After two straight games of baseball bashing, it seemed like White Sox bats were finally going to have a quiet day in the final matchup of a three-game set vs. the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The South Siders managed only one run through the first seven innings of play, an RBI single by Jose Abreu in the third.

Meanwhile, Reynaldo Lopez, looking to build off his five innings of one-run ball last time out, ran into trouble in the fifth. The Dominican hurler gave up a three-run homer to Christian Vazquez, who already has 12 RBI (T-2nd in the AL) on the young season.

With the White Sox trailing 4-1 in the eighth, it looked like the brooms would have to be kept in the closet for another day. That all changed with two swings of the bat. First, Eloy Jimenez hit a three-run blast that hugged the left field line and just cleared the Green Monster to tie the game 4-4.

Then, Nomar Mazara hit a game-winning no-doubter 447 feet to right field, his first home run of 2020. Aaron Bummer shut the door, just like the first two games of the series and the White Sox completed the sweep of the Red Sox, 5-4.

Result: White Sox def. Red Sox 5-4

Record: 6-3, first in AL Central

W: Jimmy Cordero (1-0)

L: Ryan Brasier (1-2)

SV: Aaron Bummer (5)

White Sox lineup

Tim Anderson: 2-5, 2B (.359 BA)

Yoan Moncada: 1-4, 2B (.359 BA)

Jose Abreu: 1-5, RBI (.268 BA)

Edwin Encarnacion: 1-3, 2 BB (.226 BA)

Yasmani Grandal: 1-3, 2 BB (.343 BA)

Eloy Jimenez: 1-4, HR, 3 RBI (.273 BA)

Luis Robert: 0-5 (.211 BA)

Nomar Mazara: 1-4, HR, RBI (.212 BA)

Leury Garcia: 0-3, BB (.231 BA)

Scoring summary

Top 3rd:

Jose Abreu singled to left field. Tim Anderson scored. 1-0 CHW.

Bottom 5th:

Christian Vazquez homered to left field. Mitch Moreland scored. Alex Verdugo scored. 3-1 BOS

Bottom 7th:

Jackie Bradley Jr. walked. Rafael Devers scored. 4-1 BOS

Top 8th:

Eloy Jimenez homered to left field. Edwin Encarnacion scored. Yasmani Grandal scored. 4-4
Nomar Mazara homered to right field. 5-4 CHW

Notable performance: Though he may sit just outside of the heart of the White Sox order, Eloy Jimenez has been the team’s top run producer this year. With his three-run homer in the eighth, the young slugger already has 11 RBIs in nine games. That’s the most on the White Sox and tied for ninth in the AL.

Next game: Monday, April 6 - Game 10: Mariners vs. White Sox (Dylan Cease vs. Marco Gonzales)

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Taking ‘finding new ways to win’ to the extreme

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AP

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Taking ‘finding new ways to win’ to the extreme

Baseball’s history is long, so what happened in the bottom of the eighth on May 5, 2005, probably happened before.

But it couldn’t have happened many times.

When you shotgun a season of winning baseball in quick succession, like we’re doing while watching #SoxRewind, it’s easy to notice how good teams are capable of finding so many different ways to win. The White Sox 21st win of the 2005 season took that concept to the extreme.

Zack Greinke dominated the South Side offense through seven innings, allowing just two hits and no runs. Jose Contreras stifled the Royals almost as well, but a home run off the bat of Tony Graffanino in the seventh gave the visitors a 1-0 lead.

The White Sox didn’t get another hit, but they capitalized on some dreadful Royals pitching to grab what had to be one of their more improbable victories in a 99-win season.

Greinke walked Paul Konerko to lead off the bottom of the eighth, and after a sacrifice bunt, Jermaine Dye was hit by a pitch to put the go-ahead run on base. Andy Sisco came in and got Jamie Burke to ground out — he swung at the first pitch — but the wheels quickly fell off. Sisco walked Joe Crede on five pitches to load the bases, and then he walked Juan Uribe on four pitches to force in the tying run.

Uribe didn’t seem to have any intention of swinging, making the plate appearance seem like it would have had the same result had he left his bat in the dugout.

After Sisco got the hook, Ambiorix Burgos entered and promptly walked Scott Podsednik to put the White Sox in front.


Against three straight batters with two runners in scoring position and two outs, including back-to-back with the bases loaded, Royals relievers threw 13 pitches, just one of which was a strike.

Though Tadahito Iguchi struck out to end the inning, the bottom of the eighth went thusly for the White Sox: They scored two runs, flipped a deficit to a lead, sent eight men to the plate, saw five men reach base and got exactly zero hits.

Incredible.

Winning 99 regular-season games and winning a championship takes an awful lot of talent and overmatching of opponents. But it also takes a good amount of good fortune, and this day, the White Sox took advantage of the mistakes of a Royals team that ended up with 106 losses.

And it happened in a way you’ll be hard pressed to witness again.

What else?

— The conditions were right for the White Sox to pull out a win after Contreras dazzled through eight innings of one-run ball. It was his first win of the season and one of his finest performances of 2005. Prior to giving up the seventh-inning home run to Graffanino, he retired 17 of the first 19 batters he faced. Then after giving up the homer and allowing two more base runners in the seventh, he went 1-2-3 in the top of the eighth on just seven pitches.

This was one of five regular-season outings in 2005 in which Contreras went at least eight innings. The other four came in his final eight starts of the year, including in each of his final three.

— Shingo time finally ran out. After the White Sox took the lead in that wacky eighth, the closer didn’t make for an easy save in the ninth. Aaron Rowand made a diving play to get the first out of the inning, but Takatsu followed with back-to-back walks, putting the go-ahead run on base. He got a strikeout of Ken Harvey for Out No. 2, but both runners moved into scoring position on a wild pitch during the next at-bat. Takatsu got Terrence Long to fly out to end the game, but that was far too much of a nail-biter.

Takatsu’s tenure as White Sox closer was over after this game, his final appearance in a save situation as a South Sider.

— That Rowand catch for the first out in the ninth inning? It was fantastic, by the way.


— Goodness, Greinke was good. As discussed the last time we saw the 21-year-old Greinke on #SoxRewind, this was not one of his better seasons. But he looked like the elite pitcher he has since become in this one, all but completely shutting down the White Sox offense. Before starting that ludicrous eighth inning, he tossed seven shutout innings with just two singles allowed. Greinke was seeing this same situation play out over and over again to begin his 2005 season. He was getting no run support, like worse than Jose Quintana levels of run support. The Royals scored a grand total of seven runs in his first five starts coming into this game, then scored one in this game and one in the next, giving Greinke an average of just 1.29 runs per game over his first seven starts of the season.

— Darrin Jackson: “It’s not something you’re going to see very often, Scott Podsednik caught stealing.” Coming into this game, that was certainly the case. The White Sox leadoff hitter, coming off 70 stolen bases with the Brewers in 2004, had 11 swiped bags and had been caught stealing just once in his first 21 contests as a South Sider. But Podsednik actually ended up the major league leader in that category, caught 23 times by the time the regular season wrapped up. Of course, he also stole 59 bases, a total that ranked third in baseball behind Chone Figgins (62) and Jose Reyes (60). He was caught stealing for the second time in the fourth inning of this game.

— As mentioned, Graffanino’s home run accounted for the only Royals run. Graffanino spent four seasons with the White Sox, batting .271 with a .344 on-base percentage. This was one of four home runs he hit against the South Siders in his 13-year major league career.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Monday, when you can catch the May 8, 2005, game against the Blue Jays, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. The White Sox bats jumped all over Gustavo Chacin, and Mark Buehrle had just one bumpy inning en route to his fifth win.

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