White Sox

Would the White Sox change Yoan Moncada's position again for the right free agent?


Would the White Sox change Yoan Moncada's position again for the right free agent?

Yoan Moncada’s move from second base to third base has gone swimmingly this season, corresponding with his ascension to the status of the White Sox best hitter a year after he struck out 217 times in his disappointing first full season in the big leagues.

With everything going so smoothly, you might think that Moncada is locked in at the hot corner, written in pen on the team’s depth chart for years to come. And you’d probably be right. Indeed, the White Sox are fully committed to Moncada at third base.

“As far as I think all of us are concerned, Yoan is our third baseman moving forward,” manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday. “Been doing a great job. I think he's probably one of the best in the league.

“I don't see him moving into another position on an everyday basis. Is it possible because of his ability to move around and play other positions, that he could play other positions in the future? I'm sure it is. But right now, he's our third baseman, absolutely.”

The question is, could something change that? And could something change that as soon as this winter?

Plenty among you are raising your hand right now, ready to let slip the words “Anthony” and “Rendon” in quick succession. Yes, the Washington Nationals star is a free agent this offseason, one of the biggest names on the market, if not the biggest name after Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole.

The White Sox again plan to be aggressive in pursuit of a big-time talent to add to their growing core of young players this winter. They were involved in the chases for the two biggest names on last winter’s market, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, and though those pursuits ended with those guys on other teams, general manager Rick Hahn has said repeatedly that his front office won’t be deterred from future pursuits.

While the White Sox are still in rebuilding mode and while they’re heading toward a seventh straight sub-.500 finish, the roster of the future is filling up fast. In projecting the starting nine for 2020, there aren’t many holes to be found: James McCann and Zack Collins at catcher, Jose Abreu (in all likelihood) at first base, Nick Madrigal (eventually) at second base, Tim Anderson at shortstop, Moncada at third base, Eloy Jimenez in left field, Luis Robert (eventually) in center field, with Collins also likely spending some time at first base and designated hitter. Even guys like Leury Garcia and Yolmer Sanchez might be able to be penciled in as reserves.

Well, if the White Sox end up pursuing Rendon — and they haven’t said anything suggesting they will, other than their stated desire to add an impact player — where the heck would they want him to play?

Considering Rendon is an All-Star player with one heck of a track record, one that includes a reputation as a good defender at the hot corner, they’d likely let the man getting the hundreds of millions of dollars stay at third base.

Why do I say that? Well, remember that Moncada’s official switch from second base to third base didn’t come until Machado opted to spend the next decade of his career in San Diego. The next day, Moncada was officially the White Sox new third baseman, as good an indication as any that the move might not have been made had Machado come to the South Side. After all, Machado’s spent his entire career on the left side of the infield. But with Machado out of the White Sox plans, Moncada could vacate second base in advance of Madrigal’s eventual arrival. And the move has ended up working terrifically, as Moncada’s been excellent at third base this season.

But if the White Sox were willing to let a potential Moncada-Madrigal situation arise in favor of Machado, maybe they’d be willing once more to alter their future plans if a big-name free agent came along.

Moncada’s earned the right to say he sees himself as the third baseman for the long term. He’s also willing to do just about whatever.

“Honestly, yes, I think third base is going to be my position for a very, very long time,” Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “At the same time, I'm open to help the team at any position they need me to play. That's up to them. I'm open to it but I feel very comfortable playing third base right now.”

As mentioned above, there aren’t many places for Moncada to go, though, if the White Sox were to successfully pursue Rendon this winter. Really, the only place on the field is right field, considering Moncada is far too athletic to be installed as a full-time designated hitter at 24 years old. (Plus, Abreu is aging and Andrew Vaughn is on his way to the big leagues, too, but that’s a whole different discussion.)

Could Moncada move to the outfield?

“As far as he's concerned, he said he can play center, as well,” Renteria said. “He's a tremendously athletic individual. I think he has the ability to do whatever he wants, probably, like a lot of our guys. It's a simple game, but a lot of these guys have physical skills that allow them an opportunity to do a lot of different things.”

That seems like a more difficult switch than the one Moncada made last offseason, one that involved him going to a position he played before. But that’s a metaphorical bridge to be crossed at a hypothetical point in time.

While there was concern that moving Moncada to a new position last spring might have had a negative impact on his development, that was coming off a disappointing season in which there was really nowhere to go but up. Now, thanks to the amount of work Moncada put in over the winter, they’re dealing with an All-Star caliber player. He’s still young, obviously, still developing, but he’s figured things out.

Not only that, but Moncada admitted that the move to third base has helped him at the plate, something Renteria has said repeatedly since spring training.

“I think the biggest concern everybody had when we first moved him to third was the nuances of playing third base would disrupt his offensive side. It was actually the opposite,” Renteria said. “I think it allowed him to focus a little bit more on both sides of the baseball and got him away from second. … Some of the things we talked about, in terms of when he played second, were that he might become a little lackadaisical at times because it seemed kind of easy. He stays a little more focused at third.”

“I think that the move to third base helped me to concentrate more on my offense because I don't need to be overwhelmed with my defense and thinking about a lot of different things when I'm on the field,” Moncada said. “I think that's an advantage for me, but at the same time I also worked hard during the off-season to improve my offense. Those two things this year are coming together for me.”

You know the old saying about something that ain’t broke.

This whole discussion is completely speculative, obviously. Many fans might not have even gotten this far, completely dismissing the idea of the White Sox landing one of the biggest names on the free-agent market after the way things played out in February. For what it’s worth, Hahn understands that narrative, regardless of its veracity, will stick until his front office proves it wrong.

But regardless of your opinion on whether they’ll be able to close a deal, there’s no doubting that the White Sox were aggressively in the mix last offseason in pursuit of one of baseball’s top talents. There’s no reason to suggest they can’t be again this winter. Maybe it’s Cole, maybe it’s Rendon, maybe it’s someone else. Maybe it’s not a free agent at all and Hahn goes to the trade market.

Rendon, though, will be among the names most heavily discussed this winter. And if the White Sox do make a run at that third baseman, they’ll have to figure out what to do with their third baseman.

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Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s almost like Jose Abreu never left.

He was only a free agent for a week and a half, Abreu bringing his brief time away from the White Sox to an end Thursday, when he accepted the qualifying offer of a one-year deal with $17.8 million.

It’s not the multi-year contract that was expected, but MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported that the sides will continue to discuss a long-term pact. Still, the decision is a rare one, with Abreu becoming one of the few players ever to accept the qualifying offer. But he’ll get a nice payday for the 2020 season with a chance to do this whole free-agency thing again a year from now, if he chooses.

There was speculation that Abreu could accept the qualifying offer because of a potentially weak market for his services league-wide. If Abreu rejected the qualifying offer and things fell apart in discussing a multi-year deal with the White Sox, any team that signed him to a contract would have lost a draft pick in doing so. That deterred teams from signing free agents just in the last year, with Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel notably going unsigned until June.

Who knows if that — or just the desire to earn $17.8 million before a potential dip in his annual salary as he ages — had anything to do with Abreu’s decision, but it’s what was being speculated.

Regardless, the White Sox have their first baseman back, great news after he turned in one of the more productive seasons of his six-year big league career in 2019. Abreu led the American League with a career-best 123 RBIs and came three home runs shy of matching a career-high in that category, as well.

Abreu’s return always seemed a foregone conclusion, with the three-time All Star spending the entire 2019 season talking about how badly he wanted to remain on the South Side, going as far as to pledge that if the White Sox didn’t re-sign him, he’d sign himself to a contract and play here anyway.

The feeling was mutual, too, with general manager Rick Hahn, manager Rick Renteria and teammates praising Abreu as a model player and a mentor for the team’s young stars in the making. Eloy Jimenez said Abreu had been like a father during the rookie’s first season in the majors. Abreu revealed that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told him he’d never wear another uniform.

He’s as giddy about the team’s future as anyone and has cited the planned shift into contention as the reason he wants to stick around. Tim Anderson said “it’s only right” that Abreu return for 2020, a season in which the long-awaited transition out of rebuilding mode could take place. Hahn said earlier this season that it’s “very likely” Abreu would be around for the franchise’s planned good times.

Abreu’s been incredibly productive at the plate, though his off-the-field contributions are just as important, of course, and he’s been a mentor to players like Jimenez and Yoan Moncada as they’ve gotten their first taste of the major leagues. Luis Robert, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, figures to find his way under Abreu’s wing when he reaches the bigs next season.

Abreu has long seemed to be held in the same esteem as players who have their numbers retired and statues standing at Guaranteed Rate Field, earning the title of “Mr. White Sox” for this generation. It’s no surprise the White Sox are keeping him in that role moving forward as they plan to start seeing brighter days on the South Side.

After capturing the RBI crown, Abreu made his final prediction of the 2019 campaign, saying he did believe he'd be back with the White Sox for 2020. It might not have been terribly difficult to be prescient in this case, but he was nonetheless.

"Everybody knows my wishes and my desire to stay here," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "This is an organization I respect. This is an organization I really honor.

"I want to be here, and you know guys, I’ve been telling you that. Hopefully I’m going to be here."

Hope no longer. It might not have gone down exactly as was expected, but Abreu isn't going anywhere.

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Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

Under what circumstances would the White Sox trade for Mookie Betts?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Nothing seems to be off the table for the White Sox this winter.

But certain moves might be the centerpiece, while others might be hiding behind the salt shaker.

One of the biggest questions in baseball right now is what the Boston Red Sox are going to do with Mookie Betts. With the Red Sox aiming to get under the luxury tax — made more difficult when J.D. Martinez opted to stay in Boston for $23.75 million — speculation surrounding a trade of Betts and the $27.7 million he’s projected to receive through arbitration has increased.

Betts, too, it’s important to note, has just one year of club control remaining, and he seems set on heading to free agency at this time a year from now.

The White Sox hole in right field and quest to make a huge addition to their rebuilding project lines them up as a potentially interested party. While general manager Rick Hahn is waiting until his 2020 roster takes shape to set expectations for next season, the emergence of a young core presents the possibility that next season could be the one in which contention arrives on the South Side.

Adding Betts to the mix would certainly increase those chances.

Tuesday, Hahn seemed to leave the door open to acquiring a player like Betts, that is a player with just one year of club control remaining.

“Yeah, depending on the cost. It all comes down to price,” he said. “Like everybody, you want guys who are going to fit for the long term. We want to add a guy who's got a three-, four-, five-, six-year window of control where he's going to continue to improve and he's going to grow with this young core. Those guys aren't so easy to acquire. Usually you have to give a pretty premium piece like we did to get ours, or hit on them at the top of the draft like we've hopefully done.

“Short of that, we're going to look for guys who can certainly make you better in the short term but ideally have a little back-end control. If those don't exist, if we don't come across the right fit, then we'd be open to a one-year improvement knowing that with where we've put ourselves economically, we might have the ability to retain that player when they hit free agency.”

That sounds promising if you’re a member of the Betts-to-the-White Sox camp.

But there was a decidedly different tone Wednesday. Now, Hahn was never speaking about Betts specifically, nor was he ever asked about Betts specifically. But asked about dealing from a position of prospect strength for an impact talent who has just one year of club control left, the answer was significantly different than Tuesday’s.

“We made a commitment,” Hahn said, “that once we got ourselves in a position to be on the opposite end of these trades, the trades where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important to us to still try to remain committed to the long term.

“When there's a guy like Chris Sale available, who (in 2016, when the White Sox traded him) had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world. If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet, and if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time.

“Quick hits don't necessarily do that. And certainly after three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something for immediate bang in 2020, necessarily, if we feel it compromises us for the long term.

“We've paid too big of a price to compromise where we're going to be at long term.”

Now, with that question posed by a Boston-based reporter, Hahn might have been addressing a more specific scenario. More likely is that he was reacting to the idea that the White Sox top-rated prospects would make them able to swing a deal for the elite of the elite. Thing is, the highest rated of those prospects aren’t really on the block, with Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn all solidly part of the team’s long-term plans.

So, is a Betts trade off the table? No. Is a Betts trade likely? Probably not. Would the White Sox trade for Betts? Probably if they only had to give up mid-tier prospects. What would it take to pry Betts away from the Red Sox? Probably more than mid-tier prospects.

Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of Hahn’s comments on Tuesday and Wednesday, he didn’t really flip-flop. A trade for one year of Betts isn’t out of the question, it's likely only going to come if the White Sox don’t have to give up too much. Maybe the Red Sox financial situation is dire enough that the prospect cost will be unusually low. Maybe the White Sox are presented with a rare opportunity to negotiate an extension.

But “depending on the cost” remains the key phrase not just in this situation but the entire White Sox offseason. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend or trade anyone. It simply means that they will only do so if there’s a long-term benefit. They’re trying to build a perennial contender, and the lengthy tenures of Robert and Madrigal and Vaughn are more valuable than one year of Betts.

In search of that long-term benefit, then, the free-agent market or a trade for a player with greater club control certainly seems a more likely route than a trade for Betts.

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