Hoge: Future Still Bright For White Sox Despite Not Landing Machado

Yoan Moncada. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — I found the best remedy for your Manny Machado hangover.

Get on a plane, go to a White Sox spring training game, see a lineup that includes Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, and all of your pain and misery will be washed away. 

I’m not a doctor, but I can confidently say it will work. 

My seven-day visit to White Sox camp started with the Machado news breaking right as my plane was taking off from O’Hare. The engines were literally roaring on the runway and we were well past the point that my phone should have been on airplane mode. 

“Machado agrees with Padres,” the text from WGN’s White Sox executive producer Dave Zaslowsky said. 

I had just enough time — more like 4,000-5,000 feet — to check Twitter for details. And then, well, it was time to dive into Bohemian Rhapsody (great movie and performance by Rami Malek, although he reminded me more of Mick Jagger than Freddie Mercury the whole time). 

By the time we touched down in Phoenix, the optimism about the White Sox’s future had seemingly disappeared. The rebuild was suddenly a disaster and there were fans actually threatening to boycott Opening Day. (Apparently offering a premium talent hundreds of millions of dollars is something to protest?)

Here’s where I stand on Machado, and then I’m ready to move on: I told myself the entire time that I wasn’t going to get too excited or upset about the outcome. The talent is undeniable and the fit (not to mention brand boost) for the White Sox made sense. On the other hand, I heard just as many red flags/fears about signing Machado to a long term deal that I wasn’t disappointed when he chose San Diego. No one knows how it will all play out over the next 10 years, but I feel pretty confident in predicting that Machado will win a lot of games for the Padres and also cause some headaches along the way. And I also understand why White Sox fans would have been OK dealing with those headaches because he’s a really good player. You are certainly allowed to be disappointed.

Just don’t jump off the bandwagon. 

You know what bothered me more than not landing Machado? The lengths that some fans went to denounce the entire rebuild because the White Sox missed out on one big free agent — one that few thought they were realistically in play for a few months ago. These people are essentially punishing the franchise for making such a strong push for such a talented player. So you’d be happier if the White Sox had never tried to sign Machado? I’m struggling to see how Machado picking another team means that longterm plan isn’t working. There’s no logic there, folks.

Admittedly, there seemed to be a bit of a dark cloud hanging over Camelback Ranch last week, and not just because it was actually pouring rain for two straight days in the desert. You could feel the negativity radiating from Chicago for most of the week, mainly from those who were nowhere near actual White Sox players or coaches. Fortunately, by week’s end, the sun returned and there was plenty of evidence to suggest the future is still extremely bright for the White Sox. 

With that in mind, here are some of my takeaways from my week with the White Sox:

(Bleep) Yeah

There was one important place that I never felt the Machado hangover lingering — the clubhouse. 

It was business as usual the morning after Machado chose San Diego. Yonder Alonso admitted that it would have been a dream to play with his brother-in-law, but he was clearly relieved that the prolonged free agency saga was over. And no one set the tone to move on like shortstop Tim Anderson, who delivered the most emphatic response when asked if he was ready to stop answering questions about Machado.

“(Bleep) yeah,” he said.

A couple of days later I sat down with White Sox manager Ricky Renteria in his office and asked him about Anderson’s response. 

“I don’t like it. I love it,” Renteria said. 

Anderson, of course, was among the players whose job was threatened by a potential Machado acquisition, so you can understand the relief. But overall, I was impressed with how Renteria handled the situation, always emphasizing that his job is to coach the players who are actually on the team and keeping the focus on them. That helped keep business as usual when Machado went elsewhere.

The Great Day In Scottsdale

The best part of spring training is that most of the White Sox’s top prospects are sharing the clubhouse with the major league squad and appearing in the same lineups. There’s legitimate anticipation every morning to see what kind of lineup Renteria is going to put together.

That’s why Monday’s game in Scottsdale against the Giants became a must-watch situation when Renteria put Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert in the lineup together. 

The future was on full display and all three players looked great. Moncada made a tremendous bare-handed play, looking like he had exclusively played third base his entire life. He tripled in Jimenez, who actually stole a base in the game. And Robert had a two-RBI triple of his own, turning on the jets to make third base on a ball hit to the left field corner.

“Ridiculous,” Jimenez said about Robert’s speed. “He’s super fast. Like pantera. Like panther.”

Honestly, the White Sox needed Monday. The fans needed Monday. It was an important reminder that possible World Series championships never hinged on acquiring Machado. They hinge on the development of the many talented players already in the White Sox system.

It was just one spring training game, but even the players felt the boost. 

“It gets me super excited because I know the future is going to be awesome,” Jimenez said.

The Move To Third

Nothing fascinated me more in Arizona than Moncada’s switch to third base. I love everything about it. 

In assessing his 2018 season, I never got too concerned about what was happening at the plate. The strikeouts were bothersome, but I was very encouraged that Moncada stayed so patient despite the Ks piling up. He improved from the right side of the plate as the season went along and the power was always there. In the big picture, there is plenty of reason to believe a big offensive jump is coming in 2019.

But the defensive struggles at second base were hard to swallow. There were too many unforced errors that you couldn’t really blame on anything other than a lack of focus.

Renteria mentioned multiple times last week that the switch to third base will help Moncada’s focus because he simply won’t have a choice. At third, you have to be on your toes on every pitch and the reaction time is much quicker. And perhaps most importantly, you can’t afford to be thinking about that last strikeout when you’re standing 90-100 feet away from a pull-hitting right-handed slugger. I’m all-in on the logic behind the move.

And sure, Nick Madrigal is on the way at second base too.

But I was also curious as to if Moncada is buying the idea that moving to third base could also help him on the offensive side.

“I think the move can help me to get more focus in my offense and get better results in my offense,” Moncada said through interpreter Billy Russo. “But at the end of the day, we have to play defense and offense and I’m just ready for whatever the situation is.”

Moncada showed that with his barehanded play against the Giants, charging a ball to his left between short and third and angling his body so he could barehand the ball and get the throw off.

“I just reacted,” Moncada said. “It was a ground ball (in the hole) and as soon as the pitcher delivered the ball, I was ready and I just reacted and did what I was supposed to do.”

Just react. Exactly what the White Sox want him to do.

Final Thoughts

– The 2019 season appears to be somewhat of a swing season in the rebuild process, not necessarily when it comes to wins and losses, but in individual development for many key pieces in the organization. If the development happens, the wins will naturally come. Moncada has to take a step forward. Jimenez will ideally provide an impact bat as soon as he comes up. Carlos Rodon needs to put together a full season. It’s an important year for Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito. The list goes on and on — and that’s just at the major league level.

“We got a lot of talent. It’s coming fast,” Renteria told WGN Radio. “This is a pivotal year for the organization. It’s a pivotal year for the club that we have right now in camp.”

– I’m interested to see the split between Jose Abreu and Yonder Alonso at first base and when I asked Renteria about it, I found his answer notable: 

“(Jose) is our first baseman. You know, Yonder comes in also being a really good first baseman. He’s going to give us the flexibility — both of them are going to give us the flexibility — to do a couple of different things. I think matchups will play a role in some of the situations with Yonder.”

I get the sense that Abreu will still get the majority of the work at first base, but Alonso gives Renteria the ability to play matchups better and his presence overall gives the White Sox a better outlook at the designated hitter spot, while providing more flexibility in the lineup.

– There’s really nothing to complain about with the Ervin Santana signing. It’s a low risk, high reward move. It sounds like the White Sox will move him along slowly during spring training, but if healthy, Santana could provide a boost of reliability in the 2019 rotation.

– Micker Adolfo is huge. He looks like an NFL tight end. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do once he’s fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery.

– It doesn’t sound like the pitch clock will be utilized during the regular season, but despite all the complaining from pitchers around the league, I hardly noticed it during the first three spring training games. I even picked a couple innings here and there to focus on the clock and how pitchers were handling it and it seemed like 99 percent of the time it was shutting off with four or five seconds to go because the pitcher was already set. I’ve never had strong feelings either way on the pitch clock (I’m more worried about the amount of pitching changes and delays within games), but after seeing it work for a few days, I think a pitch clock would do a lot more good than bad for the game. It kind of reminds me of when the NFL moved extra points back. It didn’t seem entirely necessary, but it has helped the game a little bit, and everyone has adjusted without thinking about it too much. The pitch clock would be similar. Everyone would get used it pretty quickly and then forget about it.

– We’ll end things with a fun quote from Eloy Jimenez from my sit-down with him:

“(White Sox fans) need to know that I’m going to do my best to try to get championships. Not one, not two, multiple championships.”

Adam Hoge hosts White Sox postgame shows on the WGN White Sox Radio Network. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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