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.