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Who’s on third? (Second part)

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Moving Moncada to the hot corner negates his most valuable defensive weapon

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins
Wrong way: Moncada’s range is a strength that will play well at second base, not third.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of days have passed since Machado’s decision to sign with the San Diego Padres, and mercy, it has been a rough week to be a Chicago White Sox fan. The South Siders missed out on a big-time player, and they are worse off as a result, even after considering the high cost of signing such premium talent. It is difficult to sugarcoat how the Machado saga went down, but what we can do is look forward.

Due to the events that have taken place since Monday some fans may have forgotten, but manager Rick Renteria said we shouldn’t be surprised if Moncada is the White Sox third baseman on Opening Day.

This has a few implications that are potentially troublesome. The main one is that moving Moncada to third base will not solve his defensive issues. Moncada made 21 errors last year, which easily led the American League among second basemen. This, however, does not mean that he was playing the wrong position. Most of those errors would not have been prevented if he was playing a somewhere else. Also, errors are often a misleading statistic, as they do not say anything about plays the fielder did make.

Moncada was tied for second among American League second basemen in putouts (213) and third in assists (335; Jed Lowrie and Rougned Odor had 336). According to Baseball Savant, Moncada’s sprint speed is 28.8 ft/sec, which places him in the 89th percentile among major leaguers. Even among second basemen, this is well better than average. In other words, Moncada’s range is a strength, not a weakness. The White Sox should be taking advantage of that as much as possible, and moving him to third base won’t do that. At least for now, the Sox should be patient with Moncada at second base.

Another implication may involve the way the Sox handle Nick Madrigal’s development. This could be speculation, but it appears that the Sox are committed to Madrigal as their major league second baseman. He surprised with several highlight plays at second base last year that made his MLB Pipeline 60 field grade seem too low. Given Madrigal’s average arm strength and how skilled he is at second, it’s doubtful that Madrigal’s future is on the left side of the infield.

With that in mind, a take that should be addressed is the one that Madrigal is ready to play in the majors, and the White Sox should get him there this season. The highest level Madrigal has played in so far is A+, and his bat still leaves a bit to be desired. In 107 plate appearances with the Dash, he slashed .306/.355/.347. Slugging percentage will probably always be one of Madrigal’s weaknesses, and the Sox did not expect him to hit bombs when they drafted him.

I will gladly take the batting average and on-base percentage, but he did not exactly set the Carolina League on fire in this small sample. Madrigal is certainly not in the same situation as Eloy Jiménez, who clearly is not being challenged in AAA, two levels above Madrigal. Let’s not stunt Madrigal’s development by rushing him, like a different early draft pick at the same position (see: Gordon Beckham).

So, where does that leave us in our search for the White Sox third baseman of the future? I would not count out Jake Burger, as he is scheduled to return in May from his second Achilles injury. He would still be Plan A, but he still has question marks, especially given that he has not played in a level beyond Low-A.

If Burger does not show signs of panning out, I would look toward free agents. There will not be many options over the next couple of offseasons in terms of third basemen, but one option that could make sense is Matt Duffy, who becomes a free agent after 2021 and will be 30 at that time. Duffy’s glove is great, and to quote Brad Pitt, he gets on base (.361 OBP in 560 plate appearances last year). Duffy is admittedly not the sexiest option, but these days it is difficult to imagine the Sox landing anything sexy under Reinsdorf.

An unintended consequence of losing out on Machado are the questions left unresolved at third, centering on Moncada and Burger. If the Moncada third base experiment goes well, great, as it clears the way for Madrigal. But if Moncada sticks at second base, and Madrigal proves to be a clear second baseman, using Madrigal as trade bait is a viable option. Madrigal’s stock is quite high, and it likely will be throughout this season. Be open to a trade possibility, in case a team in the early stages of a rebuild is willing to overpay and give up a player with a few years left of team control who could help during the White Sox’s contention window (whatever it might be, at this point).

None of this would be an issue if the White Sox had avoided getting too cute with the Machado offer and just offered him enough guaranteed money, and that is a tough pill to swallow. But, all is not lost.

On Tuesday, one of the few comments from the front office that I liked was from Hahn, when he said the rebuild was never about one guy. Lots of players can make contributions to the White Sox. It is just a matter of finding who will.