If Jerry Reinsdorf indeed wanted to pursue Manny Machado without being forced to set the market by his lonesome, the San Diego Padres did him a solid.
Just like the White Sox, the Padres are said to have offered Machado an eight-year deal according to multiple reports. Unlike the White Sox, the size of the Padres’ offer seems to have a narrower and firmer range, and, if true, ups the ante:
The range could vary because of California’s steep state income tax, which might require signing bonuses or deferred money to recoup equal value to the same face value signed in other states. Or it just may be because nobody knows what anything means anymore.
I’m not even sure “offer” has a strict definition at this point, but San Diego’s should inspire some kind of reaction from competing clubs, including ones that are reportedly waiting for an offer to top. At least it would’ve way back in the long, long ago … meaning 2014.
At any rate, the uniformed White Sox personnel didn’t show the kind of sensitivity the off-field news demanded, because Rick Renteria opened the first official day of full spring training by playing Yoan Moncada at third and Yolmer Sanchez at second.
That’s a sensible course to pursue in a world where Machado isn’t there, and an unnecessary flexibility ploy if he is. Coming on the heels of the San Diego offer?
It also didn’t help that Rick Renteria’s explanation relied more on intangibles/unproveables:
“I think that playing third might allow him to free himself up, simply because he’s going to have to be more focused,” manager Rick Renteria said. “At second base, you can get a little bit more lackadaisical. I think that it’s possible, and there’s no guarantee, that playing third base rounds out his focus a little bit more on both sides of the ball. At least that’s an expectation or a hope we might have.”
If there’s a focus-adjacent case to be made, I think there are more varieties of mechanics to stay on top of as a second baseman than a third baseman. Moncada’s errors didn’t stem from a lack of range, but what came after getting into a fielding position. It all kinda went haywire for Moncada last year. Rushing motions and hard hands are the simple ones to diagnose, but things like quick pivots for things besides double plays, stopping momentum after ranging, preserving throwing angles, etc. are harder to solve. Experience solves some of it, as Tim Anderson proves, but Anderson mostly had to deal with wrestling the speed of the game down to his level. Fluidity is harder to learn.
Third base has its own challenges, but you’re mostly going left and throwing left, making it more about first-step quickness and hands. Second base requires more in the way of artistry, and Sanchez brings creativity to his problem-solving there. (Then again, Micah Johnson was an actual, literal artist, so never mind.)
So I can buy Moncada as a third baseman, and if the Sox don’t land Machado, grooming Moncada is a more proactive stance than putting all the eggs in the basket of another failed free agent pursuit next season. In the rosiest of outcomes, he’d stabilize at third while offering the promise of improvement at second, making further infield flexibility possible (or marketable in terms of a trade).
I’d prefer that to the other line of reasoning floated from spring training, presented by NBC Sports Chicago’s Vinnie Duber:
Moncada’s move to third base has little, if anything, to do with Machado and a lot more to do with Nick Madrigal, last year’s first-round pick who is what the White Sox call a Gold Glove caliber defender up the middle, specifically at second base, where he’s played since he joined the organization. Madrigal, who the White Sox described as the best all-around player in college baseball when they drafted him, could move through the system quickly, and when he arrives at the major league level, they want to have a spot for him.
Madrigal posted a .701 OPS at Winston-Salem last year, so presenting him as a driver of major-league decisions doesn’t do anybody a whole lot of good. A broken hand is as good a reason as any why Madrigal had to settle for opposite-field singles last year, but people just might want to see him turn around low-minors pitching with a wood bat for the first time before penciling him in to any major plans.
The White Sox might not want to even put Madrigal on the fastest track possible, and for reasons besides economic ones. For one, the Sox have spoken about wanting to see his ability at shortstop before cementing him at second (he was trumped by a superior option at Oregon State). Then there’s this story about Gordon Beckham, who might get one more chance with the Tigers, and might retire if it doesn’t pan out.
Beckham has no contingency plan beyond that. He spent more time in the minor leagues the last two seasons (177 games) than he did after he was drafted in the first round out of the University of Georgia in 2008 (88 games).
That’s not going to happen this year, one way or another.
“At this point in my career, if it doesn’t work out here, I might be done,” he said. “I’ve been up and down with the Mariners the last two years. It’s not something that is super appealing to me anymore. I want to compete at the highest level.
Not every fast-tracked prospect will turn out like Beckham, but it’s probably a good rule of thumb to wait for the prospect to demand a fast-tracking with his performance before entertaining it.
I wouldn’t like to believe that Madrigal is the source of MLB consequences at this stage in the game. If Renteria is indeed detached from the Machado pursuit, then he should be even less involved with player development at A-ball, because the former has far more to do with his task at hand.
So, if he’s playing Moncada at third to open the spring, it’s because he can only count on the players on his roster, and that alignment might give him a better shot at reliable defense around the diamond. If Machado arrives, well, as James Fegan wrote, “They can have a short moment of silence for the days of wasted infield practice at Machado’s introductory press conference.”
Moncada then can return to second, and if Madrigal somehow complicates the picture there, then Renteria will already have experience shifting the infield in the event of a best-case scenario.