State of the White Sox: Third base


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The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re moving on to third base.

What happened in 2019

We didn’t even know who the White Sox third baseman would be until after spring training started, after Manny Machado opted to play for the San Diego Padres instead of coming to the South Side. But once the mega free agent made his decision, the White Sox swiftly moved Yoan Moncada from second base to the hot corner. Eight months later, he’s proven himself the cornerstone of the rebuild his one-time No. 1 prospect ranking promised.

Moncada’s 2018 season, his first full campaign in the major leagues, was a disappointment, lowlighted by the 217 strikeouts that rank among the most in a single season in baseball history. He went to work in the offseason and came out the other end the team’s best all-around hitter.

Mentioned by his teammates as an All-Star snub back in July, Moncada was consistently good wire to wire — save the time he missed while on the injured list, of course — but he finished the season in sensational fashion, with a .412/.455/.647 slash line to go along with 42 hits, 11 doubles, three homers, 15 RBIs and 21 runs scored in September.

The final-month surge was one of several on the team, with Tim Anderson wrapping up a batting title, Jose Abreu capturing an RBI crown and Eloy Jimenez finishing his rookie season with 31 home runs thanks to huge Septembers. But Moncada ended the season as the best all-around hitter of the bunch, boasting a .315/.367/.548 slash line, 25 homers, 79 RBIs, 34 doubles and 83 runs scored in 132 games. He also dramatically decreased the strikeouts, finishing with 154 of them, nearly 70 fewer than in his strikeout-heavy 2018 season.

Moncada also played an excellent defensive third base, impressing after committing 21 errors at second in 2018.

What will happen this offseason

Certainly the White Sox do not need to upgrade at third base, which was a focus a year ago when Moncada was still at second base and Machado and Nolan Arenado looked like big-time targets over the next two free-agent cycles. Moncada now figures to be entrenched at the hot corner. Unless … 

The White Sox showed no hesitancy last winter to pursue Machado, a shortstop, despite already having one in Anderson. Could that happen again this offseason? The No. 1 position player on the market figures to be Anthony Rendon, who isn’t expected to accept the reported seven-year deal from his current team, the Washington Nationals. Rendon has put up MVP-caliber numbers on an annual basis for the past several seasons in D.C. and would be a huge offensive addition to any lineup.

The White Sox might not have a need at third base — like they do in right field, at designated hitter and in the starting rotation — but general manager Rick Hahn has long expressed a desire to add an impact talent from outside the organization. If thinking about a bat, there’s no bigger impact stick on the free-agent market this winter than Rendon.

Asked if he would consider pursuing a big-name player who played a position already spoken for on the White Sox roster, Hahn had this to say during his end-of-season press conference last week:

“The talent pool is a little different, free agent-wise, this offseason, but I'm not going to say we won't be creative in a couple elements, whether it's via trade or free agency,” he said. “Our roster does have a little bit of flexibility in it, and we hope in the coming years to have more flexibility built in in terms of different positions that guys can go out and play.

“That said, if we wind up breaking with Moncada at third, TA at short and Eloy in left, (James) McCann behind the plate. If Jose is back, him at first or DH, we're going to feel real good about that initial start. It's going to be a matter of augmenting them at those specific positions I didn't name.”

Moncada was asked about his position status earlier in the season.

“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 end of August. “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.”

At the moment, Moncada is overwhelmingly expected to be the White Sox third baseman on Opening Day 2020 and beyond. But never say never.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

Like teammates Anderson and Lucas Giolito, Moncada will be faced with proving in 2020 that his transformation is permanent. We won’t know whether or not that’s the case until the 2020 season comes along, but certainly the huge strides made in 2019 were nothing but huge positives for the White Sox and their future.

Moncada’s performance, as well as those of Anderson, Giolito, Jimenez, Abreu and McCann, helps make the team’s transition from rebuilding to contending look like a very real possibility.

Like the teammates mentioned, though, Moncada feels he has an even higher ceiling to reach.

“I feel very good, very satisfied with having the season I'm having, but at the same time, it's not a fluke,” Moncada said in September. “I'm having the season that I'm having because I worked hard, and I still know that I can do more. I think this season is just a big takeoff for me and a big motivation.”

Expect Moncada to keep hitting and keep doing it as the team’s third baseman for the foreseeable future.

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