There is no bigger need on the Chicago White Sox' roster than second base.
While there are solutions of varying attractiveness at other spots of need on this team, there are no internal solutions at second base. Even Leury García, who we know Tony La Russa considers an everyday-type player, is a free agent, meaning that without any wintertime upgrades, Danny Mendick sits atop the team's second-base depth chart.
So something will need to happen. After the midseason trade of Nick Madrigal, second is surely on Rick Hahn's offseason to-do list.
Who knows whether the fix will come from free agency or not — the topic of discussion on the most recent White Sox Talk Podcast — but here's a look at some of the available names on the free-agent market who could solve second base for the White Sox.
A homecoming for Semien would be the biggest and best way for the White Sox to plug the hole at second. Semien was a White Sox draft pick — twice, actually, in both 2008 and 2011 — and played on the South Side for two seasons before being dealt to the Oakland Athletics. All he did in Oakland was finish third in the American League MVP vote in 2019.
He was a free agent last winter, too, and took a one-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, certainly proving that he was worthy of big bucks with a monster 2021 campaign that should again land him in the upper levels of the MVP vote. He set a major league record with 45 homers as a second baseman, driving in 102 runs and posting an .873 OPS.
Semien is the biggest fish on the second-base market, but here's the thing: He's a shortstop by trade and might want to play that position — and receive the kind of payday that typically comes with the prestige of that position, too. He never played anything but shortstop during his six years in Oakland. The White Sox, of course, are set at shortstop with Tim Anderson.
But if everything lines up and Semien's on board to play second, this is the sort of upgrade that a team trying to win the World Series makes while participating in the annual arms race against other championship contenders.
Another shortstop who just happened to play a good deal of second base last year, Báez might not have reached the production levels Semien did in two of the last three seasons, but he would be among the splashiest splashes the White Sox could make this winter.
Báez, of course, had his own top-three MVP finish in 2018, finishing second in the National League vote. Since, he hasn't been as outrageously productive, but he has remained outrageously entertaining, flashing a consistent knack of doing things no one else can do on a baseball field. Defensively and on the base paths, he is a game-changer.
And that's an attractive attribute for the "Change the Game" White Sox, who could establish themselves as the true face of the new style of baseball with a keystone combination of Anderson and Báez, who would be must-see TV on a daily basis.
The offensive ability — despite a lot of strikeouts, like the 184 of them that led the NL last season — didn't exactly disappear, by the way. In fact, his numbers jumped up immensely after his trade to the New York Mets. But Báez, too, might have his eye on playing shortstop and cashing in as a free agent at that position. He also expressed great joy over getting to play with best friend Francisco Lindor last season, potentially a convincing reason for him to stay in Queens.
Taylor could help the White Sox at numerous positions, a Swiss Army Knife type whose best asset might be his versatility. But would making him the everyday solution at one position — be it second base or right field — take away the thing that makes him an attractive addition in the first place?
Indeed there's more to Taylor than simply the ability to play all over the diamond, and a big first half earned him his first career All-Star nod earlier this year. His lengthy tenure with the perennially contending Los Angeles Dodgers allowed him to rack up playoff experience, with 62 career postseason games and three trips to the World Series under his belt. Taylor earned some Mr. October status just last month, hitting a walk-off homer in the NL Wild Card game and hitting three homers in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series.
The absolute best way to deploy Taylor is as an upgrade to the role García's played for the White Sox for so long, a guy who can move around the field and give La Russa a ton of flexibility. With holes at two spots Taylor can play, perhaps the South Siders could get creative in mixing and matching to find a solution for both spots.
Like Semien, Escobar is a one-time White Sock and a reunion could make plenty of sense this winter. Since leaving the South Side in a 2012 trade, he's become a very productive infielder, with 90 homers and 312 RBIs over the past four seasons. He had a career year in 2019, with an .831 OPS, 35 homers and 118 RBIs. He hit 28 more bombs and drove in 90 more runs in 2021, splitting time between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers.
Though not the all-position type that Taylor is, Escobar has a great deal of versatility on the infield and could help spell Anderson, José Abreu and Yoán Moncada apart from taking over regular second-base duties. His productive bat would make him a strong addition to any contending lineup, including the White Sox'. While he might not be the splashy name Báez or Semien are, he'd be a no-doubt upgrade.
The longest tenured White Sox player is scheduled to hit free agency, and it's not difficult to envision with him staying on the South Side. García showed how valuable he is to this team during the 2021 season, filling in all over the field as the White Sox battled significant injuries and having some of the most productive months of his career at the plate. Not only that, but some of his late-season heroics allowed his teammates to rave about the kind of presence he is in the clubhouse as his manager fought back against the idea of him being a stereotypical utility player.
But is García good enough to warrant the White Sox putting all their eggs in his basket when it comes to second base?
Maybe, but it's long seemed that García's best role was one where he could utilize his versatility and play all over the field. Much like Taylor, putting him at the top of the depth chart at one spot could take away his best attribute.
Bringing García back would be a good move for the White Sox in a lot of ways. But bringing him back to be the everyday second baseman comes with its question marks and wouldn't be the kind of upgrade many fans are looking for.
As of this writing, the White Sox still have a decision to make on Hernández, the trade-deadline acquisition who has a team option for 2022. After the way his offensive production fell off a cliff, though, following the midseason deal, it wouldn't be surprising to see the White Sox move on.
We'll see, though, as they could believe that a full offseason to acclimate him to his new team could prove beneficial for Hernández, and he could get back to being the guy they thought they were getting in late July: a Gold Glove defender who was hitting for power. Even before his home-run numbers jumped in the first half of the 2021 season, he was a high-average, high-on-base guy who proved very useful in the Cleveland Indians' lineup.
Again, folks looking for a serious upgrade would probably be left wanting. But Hernández doing all the things he did against the White Sox in the few years as a division rival would indeed be an upgrade over the paltry numbers he put up after arriving on the South Side, something for the front office to think about, whether it decides to pick up the option or reconsider Hernández after he reaches free agency.