Filling the gap at the second sack

Slugging stopgap: The White Sox need a second baseman. Brian Dozier remains unsigned. Still time before position players report, Rick. (@TwinsPics)


Who ultimately mans second base on opening day for the Chicago White Sox remains a mystery. Going into a season ripe with playoff expectations, relying on Danny Mendick and Leury García for significant contributions seems foolhardy, however.

Who would be the best second baseman for the South Siders in 2020? Let’s take a look at some of the top candidates.

Leader in the clubhouse

Danny Mendick‘s table may in fact be ready, which is puzzling given his sparse usage down the stretch in 2019. There was seemingly plenty of playing time available, but manager Rick Renteria only felt it necessary to grant Mendick 40 major league plate appearances.

Selected in the 22nd round of the 2015 draft out of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, the 5´10´´, 190-pounder was the definition of a late bloomer and wasn’t even confident that he’d be drafted at all. Mendick’s father has a successful career in commercial real estate, and the infielder was always falling back on that potential option.

White Sox area scouts are generally on the prowl for traits in the latter portion of the draft’s third day. Mendick could play all three infield spots and was considered to be a smart player who was pretty technically sound, with some ability to hit. The scouting department and player development staff never expected Mendick to be a legitimate big league option for 2020, but sometimes organizational depth overachieves when provided an opportunity.

Mendick hit .308/.325/.462 with two homers in a small major league sample in September. He was also pretty solid in spring training, generating some chatter that he make the 2019 squad to start the season. Mendick ultimately returned to the Charlotte Knights and hit .279/.368/.444 in the International League with 17 homers and a 109 wRC+.

The 26-year-old was added to the 40-man roster last year and protected from being included in the Rule 5 draft. Mendick was also a prominent member of the group that took part in the Soxfest festivities in late January. The organization is clearly a fan of Mendick’s potential, so it was quite puzzling that he didn’t receive more playing time to close out his first taste of the majors.

Internal threats

Leury García is back with the White Sox on a one-year deal, and the versatile switch hitter is capable of playing multiple positions. García was the primary leadoff hitter last season and played in 140 contests. Leury was over-exposed in that role, however, and his flaws were very much at the forefront. The 28-year-old hit .279/.310/.378 with eight home runs, but just an 83 wRC+. He was worth 1.3 fWAR mostly due to his versatility.

García was first acquired by the organization back in 2013, in a swap with the Texas Rangers for outfielder Alex Rios. The 5´8´´, 180-pounder can play every infield spot as well as center field and the outfield corners. He strikes out too much and doesn’t walk enough (3% BB rate), and he’d be miscast in a starting role once again. García is ideal (and more than capable) as a utility player, and that’s what his likely role will be. He is a candidate to start the season as the starter at second base, but he could also spell Nomar Mazara in the outfield in addition to his infield responsibilities.

Long shots

In some years, there are interesting non-roster invites with a legitimate chance at stealing a roster spot; this won’t be one of those years. For starters, 34-year-old utility man Andrew Romine will take part in big league spring training. The switch-hitter plays all over the diamond and spent the 2019 season in Triple-A for the Phillies. He’s a decent fit as minor league depth, but likely won’t challenge for a roster spot. Former Royals top prospect, 27-year-old Cheslor Cuthbert,will be in Glendale as well. The infielder has really struggled offensively and is unlikely to be more than a placeholder at Charlotte.

The elephant in the room

The ghost of Nick Madrigal can also be described as the elephant in the room. The fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft is the second sacker of the future, and his ascension could begin on March 26 against Kansas City. The Oregon State product will be 23 on Opening Day and projects as an elite defender at second base. In 2019, Madrigal hit .331/.398/.424 with a 117 wRC+ with the Charlotte Knights in Triple-A. He also hit .341/.400/.451 with a .391 wOBA and 150 wRC+ in Double-A with the Birmingham Barons.

If Madrigal starts the year in Chicago, second base is solved. This course of action would be the preference of many members of the fan base and media, but it doesn’t appear to be the most likely outcome on Opening Day. The 5´7´´, 170-pounder will receive plenty of run with the big league team during spring training. Service time questions aside, Madrigal could benefit from some more seasoning in the International League if the organization chooses to go that route.

External options

There are still some veteran infielders on the free agent market who could potentially help the White Sox in 2020. As GM Rick Hahn has mentioned publicly, it might be tough to land a quality player with Madrigal waiting in the wings. It’s not completely out of the question, though. Brian Dozier, Brock Holt, Brad Miller, Jason Kipnis and Ben Zobrist are names that fans have heard before.

Dozier is familiar with the AL Central and would conceivably fit right in with the White Sox. The 32-year-old posted 1.7 fWAR with a 99 wRC+ in 135 games with the Washington Nationals last year and  compiled 19 fWAR during 2014-17 with the Twins. While his overall stat line isn’t overwhelmingly exciting, the right-handed hitter did some serious work against southpaws. The 5´11´´, 200-pounder hit .280/.375/.525 with a 128 wRC+ and .373 wOBA vs lefties in 2019. Dozier has an immense amount of playoff experience and would theoretically be stellar in a backup role as well.

Holt is a cult hero in Boston and could easily return to the Red Sox. He’s been linked to some teams, but hasn’t quite found a deal to his liking. The 31-year-old has very little power but slashed .297/.369/.402 with a 103 wRC+ in 2019. The 5´10´´, 180-pounder hits from the left side and posted a 119 wRC+ vs righties last year. He’s one of myriad options for the White Sox and could contribute to the 2020 club in multiple ways.

Miller is 30, and has played on multiple teams. He was a fairly well-regarded prospect at one time and had a solid season with the Phillies in 2019. The 6´2´´, 215-pound infielder hits left-handed and posted a 126 wRC+ last year. Miller hit 13 home runs and can play all over the infield.

Kipnis is a native of Northbrook and reportedly has drawn interest from the Cubs. The 32-year-old left-handed hitter has struggled in recent years, including a 1.1 fWAR in 2019 with an 82 wRC+. Kipnis was better vs. righties, with a wRC+ of 91, and he did smack 17 long balls.

It’s unclear whether the 38-year-old Zobrist is interested in playing baseball in 2020, but he’d be a potential roster fit if willing. The Eureka native missed most of last season, but can hit from both sides of the plate, play multiple positions and has an array of playoff success.

Likely outcomes

The best outcome for the White Sox sees Madrigal being penciled into the lineup on March 26. Out of all the possible scenarios, though, this one seems the most far-fetched. It would likely only come with a signed contract extension, despite Madrigal not being in the class of players where future service time hangs over the franchise. The organization wants to see him succeed in Charlotte prior before making his big league debut. The marketing department would surely benefit from the crowd on the night of another prospect debut as well.

While Spring Training statistics are often meaningless, Madrigal’s stat line will be pored over from his first start in Glendale. But at this juncture, it seems as if Mendick is the likely Opening Day second baseman, as García’s presence on the club is valuable but not so much as an everyday player in the infield. And don’t forget, Dozier has been linked to the White Sox at points during the offseason, and he remains unsigned.

With Madrigal’s eventual arrival not imminent, Dozier seems like the best realistic outcome prior to the start of Spring Training. Adding a veteran to the mix is still possible — but if not, it appears that second base on the South Side should be in good hands for the foreseeable future.

 

Mind the gap at second base

The waiting is the hardest part: What do the White Sox do at second base, while we all wait for Nick Madrigal to arrive? (Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen)


Hello everyone, and welcome to 2020! Thanks to James and everyone who wished for Luis Robert to be locked in for the New Year — you are scholars, and I salute you.

With all the excitement going around on the recent free agent and Luis signings, I’m hearing no chatter but still seeing a gap around second base.

While (almost) everyone is sad to lose Yolmer and his Gatorade-dumping ways, the Sox have yet to really puzzle out how they’re going to fill the hole. If all goes according to whatever plan Rick has, Nick Madrigal should be gracing the field one day in the future. In the meantime, I don’t think he’s going to be up from Charlotte by Opening Day, or even September, so here are some potential options we have until Madrigal is ready, in a little thing I like to call …


… former enemies become our friends

Image result for brian dozier
(Wikipedia)

Brian Dozier is available, and he possessed the highest 2019 WAR out of the crop of remaining free agents at second base, with a hearty 1.7. He’s 33, so age-wise he’s in an OK spot if the Sox want to pick him up for a couple of years. There’s an added bonus of being familiar with the AL, because he was part of the dreaded Twins for years (if you care about the AL/NL sort of thing) before he got a ring with the Nats last season on a one-year/$9 million contract. There’s not a lot of chatter coming on Dozier, as second base seems like a low-priority across the league, so if the Sox play their cards right they have a veteran out there for the taking. It looks like second base is low on the list for the Nationals, so the environment is there for Dozier to get snapped up by another team. The nice thing about Dozier being on the older side of things is he may not be willing to take something short-term while we wait for Madrigal to mature.

Image result for jason kipnis
(Wikipedia)

Local boy Jason Kipnis is out there as well, for those of you that want to yell at me about a left-handed bat in the lineup (keep yelling, I don’t care about lefty/righty). Staying with the argument of being familiar with the AL, Kipnis has been a good middle-of-the-lineup guy for the Tribe since 2011, and had a 2019 WAR of 1.1. The problem with Kipnis is that he started and ended 2019 on the IR. He had $16.5 million option for the 2020 season, but Cleveland opted instead for a $2.5 million buyout, most likely due to decline and injuries. There’s some upside with Kipnis, but the risk is that he could become our latest Jimmy Rollins or Orlando Hudson.


Stealing from the other Sox

Image result for brock holt
(Wikipedia)

Brock Holt is another lefty bat, with a batting average slightly higher than Kipnis and Dozier (.297 vs. .238 and .245, respectively) with a WAR of 1.0. Holt is at a good age (31), so if the Sox want to snap him up for a couple of years to not only fill a hole but allow Madrigal time to develop, they would get a player with solid production in offense and defense. His 2019 deal with the Red Sox was one-year/$3.5 million so he’d be the cheapest out of the three options, with a higher potential return: He’s healthy and budget-friendly. Red Sox have been pushing for Michael Chavis to be the star starter (speaking of players struggling with health…) and are counting pennies to keep Mookie Betts, so re-upping Holt is not a big priority right now. Holt did say almost a year ago that he’d want to retire a Red Sox, so time will tell on how willing the Bosox front office is to play ball with him.


If the White Sox are looking internally and trying to save money at this point, depth charts have Leury García and Danny Mendick projected for second base, neither being a perfect fit: Mendick has mostly filled in at shortstop and third while we all know Leury as our resident fill-in-the-blank outfielder choice. Given how quickly the White Sox moved Yoán Moncada off of second base, I’m really hesitant to trust the team rolling the dice with someone who isn’t a tried and true second baseman.

Depending on what the White Sox want to spend and what they’re still looking to prioritize or add, there are three solid outside options for 2020. While Madrigal shot through the minor leagues like a rocket, I would be absolutely stunned if he were ready for Opening Day, so there’s still a hole to fill in the meantime.