The White Sox have been one of the favorites to land Manny Machado all offseason. That hasn't changed as Spring Training gets underway.
So let's take a look at the potential ramifications of Machado signing with Chicago, instead of the Padres, Phillies or Yankees. What kind of difference would he make for the White Sox franchise?
Here's a breakdown of the impact Machado could have if he joins the White Sox for the 2019 season and beyond.
Where would he play?
Machado seems to prefer to play shortstop, but the White Sox have a much clearer need at third base, where Machado won two Gold Gloves with the Orioles, and was generally considered one of the best defenders at the position.
Chicago has Tim Anderson at shortstop. The 25-year-old still has plenty of room for improvement -- he hit .240/.281/.406 in 2018, with just 30 walks to 149 strikeouts -- but he also has plenty of upside. Anderson is coming off a 20-20 season, setting career highs with 20 home runs and 26 stolen bases. Meanwhile, the White Sox regular third baseman is Yolmer Sánchez, who has a good glove, but a light bat.
If the Sox sign Machado, their best bet is to return him to his Gold Glove position at third, keep Anderson at short and use Sanchez as a versatile utility defender, a role he's filled in the past, anyway. That is, unless they want to experiment with moving Anderson to third, or even Yoán Moncada to third and Anderson to second, so they can give Machado the shortstop job.
But why do that? Machado at third, Anderson at short, Moncada at second and José Abreu at first looks like an optimal infield alignment.
Where would he hit?
It's actually an interesting question. Considering the White Sox current lineup construction, Machado could hit either second or third. He spent most of his time hitting third in 2018, but he's split his career between the No. 2 and No. 3 spots.
For Chicago, it would all depend on who you want to displace. The talented, but still developing Moncada projects as the White Sox No. 2 hitter. If Machado hit second -- where teams often now place their best hitters to strike a balance between maximizing at-bats with run-production opportunities -- Moncada could drop down to fifth or return to the leadoff spot, where he spent most of 2018. That would force the Sox to relocate Jon Jay, who is currently slated to lead off. Or Machado could hit third, in the more traditional star-hitter slot. In that case, Moncada would stay in the two-hole, while current No. 3 hitter Abreu would slide down to cleanup and Yonder Alonso would move from fourth to fifth.
The best-case scenario? Probably batting Machado second -- as he'd clearly be the best all-around bat in the lineup -- keeping the prototypical slugger Abreu in the three-hole and batting Moncada leadoff over Jay due to the youngster's power-speed threat. Here's one way the White Sox lineup could shake out:
1. Yoan Moncada, 2B
2. Manny Machado, 3B
3. Jose Abreu, 1B
4. Yonder Alonso, DH
5. Welington Castillo, C
6. Daniel Palka, LF
7. Tim Anderson, SS
8. Jon Jay, RF
9. Adam Engel, CF
Not too shabby, right? There's a lot of power in that lineup, and a lot of potential, too, if the White Sox can tap into it.
How would this affect 2019 projections?
According to the Steamer projections, which are available at FanGraphs, Machado projects for 5.2 Wins Above Replacement this season -- eighth best among all position players -- by putting up a slash line of .288/.356/.529, 34 home runs and 99 RBIs in 144 games. For the White Sox, he'd be a huge upgrade over Sanchez at third, who projects for 1.4 WAR. It's essentially a four-win difference.
But would Machado be enough to swing the American League Central race? Unfortunately, the projection systems don't think so, even if Chicago adds the four wins based on the WAR projections. That's because they see the division as a runaway for the Indians. Cleveland is projected at 93-69 -- the exact opposite of the White Sox, who are projected to finish in fourth place at 69-93.
Four extra wins take Chicago's record to 73-89, which would take them past the Royals (projected 71-91) and into third place in the division, but nowhere near the playoff picture. Of course, a superstar like Machado could easily exceed his projections and make an even bigger impact. But at least on paper, the White Sox would need more.
What are the other long-term ramifications?
The whole point of the White Sox signing the 26-year-old Machado to a long-term deal is to have a superstar already in place when all the young talent in their pipeline comes together on the field and their window opens.
Sure, it's possible that Machado is so good that he could push that window open in 2019. But it's much more likely that Chicago starts to push into contention in 2020, when flamethrower Michael Kopech returns from Tommy John surgery and star outfield prospectEloy Jiménez is (ideally) firmly established at the big league level.
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The White Sox have six prospects in MLB Pipeline's Top 100 for 2019 -- Jimenez at No. 3, Kopech at No. 18, right-hander Dylan Cease at No. 21, outfielder Luis Robert at No. 40, second baseman Nick Madrigal at No. 47 and right-hander Dane Dunning at No. 80. If Machado is anchoring the team for most of the next decade, that wave of prospects would all hit the Major League level alongside him and the pieces Chicago already has in place at the big league level.
The Sox also only have a projected payroll of just under $110 million for 2019, according to the data at Roster Resource. And their projected commitments drop down to roughly $30 million for 2020, and about $22 million in 2021 and '22. The bottom line is, they appear to have room for Machado, and possibly more.