We know the prototypes and profiles. Major League Baseball players tend to fit certain molds when it comes to filling out positions on a baseball field and White Sox brass are not summarily dismissing the possibility that second baseman Yoan Moncada could switch positions by next season.
According to Vinnie Duber of NBC Sports Chicago,
“We have not (made a determination on that yet),” Hahn said. “We’ve talked to the player, we’ve talked to scouts, had a lot of good conversations about it. Fundamentally we like versatility and flexibility in all our players. So in that specific example, Moncada’s ability to play third and second, that makes him more valuable to us. Should we eventually make a switch full time, that would be a decision we’d make closer to spring training and announce closer to spring training after the offseason plays out with how we’re going to line up.”
I think many observers, including the Red Sox, agree that Moncada profiles as a third baseman. His stout frame and power potential fit the fading image of a prototypical hot-corner guy, but his freakish speed and general proficiency around the infield could leave him at second base. The glaring issue with Moncada is a slew of errors (21) last season; third most in the league.
Hahn had more to say on the matter.
“Individually, you want to put the player in the best position to succeed for the long term. Flexibility, versatility of a roster factors into that, as well, to try to give (manager Rick Renteria) the best weapons at his disposal at any given game,” Hahn said. “And then you have to factor in the alternatives that you have and what’s going to put us in the best long-term position to win.
“If we wind up with having too many premium middle-infield prospects or big league performers, that’s a good problem to have.”
Just as the White Sox minor league system is crowded with outfield prospects, the infield could have a similar problem very soon. Nick Madrigal was tabbed by the Sox in last year’s draft and played up to snuff at three levels last season. He could force the issue to be in Double-A early next season and depending on free-agent signings and Moncada’s development in the big leagues, Madrigal could debut in late 2019. However, that would be the quickest ascension through the minors for a White-Sox infielder since Gordon Beckham and Madrigal still has a hefty list of boxes to check before reaching the bigs.
And then there is the historic free-agent class this offseason. Although the White Sox have been rumored to target both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, Machado makes more sense for the Sox. With Eloy Jimenez likely to be called up in mid-April and Luis Robert demonstrating his shocking set of skills in the Arizona Fall League, spending $400+ million on Harper is not the highest priority. Stealing an elite infielder is.
With Jake Burger‘s shredded achilles injuries, the opportunity to grab Machado takes precedence. if Harper is interested and willing to become a South-Sider, Hahn should make a competitive offer, even if it means blasting the payroll into oblivion for the next five to 10 years. But two things the White Sox lack in the minors is left-handed pitching and elite infield prospects. Machado immediately solves that problem for the foreseeable future.
Some argue that the Sox should wait till next season and try to grab either of Nolan Arenado or DJ LeMahieu. These are great options and may be wise considering Moncada has only had one full season to learn second base. If White Sox brass give Moncada the 2019 season to sand the rough edges of his defense and don’t sign Machado this offseason, the answer could be clear on whether to chase Arenado or LeMahieu next offseason.
My feeling is that it is too early to cash in on Moncada at second base. He looked overwhelmed at times last season, but given the spotlight he dealt with the last two seasons, and the weight of a city expecting him to resurrect a team from the wastebin of MLB is a lot to bear. He’s trying to balance a relatively new position at the highest level of baseball while tweaking his offensive approach from both sides of the plate. I can’t imagine how difficult that is.
But everything hinges on whether the Sox can close a deal with Machado.