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“I think god has saved something good for me. Hopefully we are going to see that.”
That Yoán Moncada is referencing a higher power speaks to just how high the stakes are for him this year.
The White Sox’ third baseman hasn’t lived up to the superstar potential that had team brass talking about him as a future MVP-type player. His 2019 season was magnificent, 25 homers and a 140 OPS-plus to go along with sterling defense at the hot corner. Indeed, he looked like he was becoming the type of player that deserved to be built around as the White Sox moved their rebuilding project into the next phase.
But that rebuilding effort never truly got off the ground, and the man who in 2016 traded Chris Sale, one of the game’s best arms, for Moncada – not far removed from being touted as the top prospect in baseball – lost his job last summer. Moncada hasn’t gone anywhere, even though a string of disappointing seasons have been an apt illustration as to how the White Sox have ended up where they are.
That stellar 2019 season yielded a big-money contract extension. But 2020 saw Moncada beaten down by the aftereffects of a COVID infection. In 2021, he was an above-average hitter but not the superstar that was promised. In 2022 and 2023, the White Sox played nearly as many games without Moncada as they did with him. Last year, a back injury snuffed out what looked like could have finally been that ascension to the levels that contract promised.
And so it’s the same old story as Moncada approaches what could be his final year in a White Sox uniform: Will he be healthy enough to finally live up to the hype?
Moncada was bedeviled by that back injury for the vast majority of what ended up one of the worst seasons in franchise history, and his absence as well as injury-affected performance contributed to a shocking 101-loss finish.
But there were glimpses during a strong finish that have some wondering “what if?” all over again. In his final 42 games, stretching across most of the campaign’s final two months, Moncada slashed .316/.358/.553, with 20 of his 48 hits going for extra bases, eight of them leaving the yard. He drove in 24 runs and scored 20 more. In other words, he looked like the 2019 version of himself, however briefly.
Talking last week, with spring training fast approaching, Moncada said the back issue that bothered him was history and looked forward to a season where health would be on his side.
“The back is good, thank god. I haven’t felt anything during my training process this offseason. Hopefully it will stay this way,” Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “During the first half of (last) season, it was painful, stressful. I couldn’t do anything. I wanted to do stuff and help the team, but I couldn’t. It was a really tough time for me.
“But once I started getting better and stronger, I felt much better and I felt good. That was why I was able to finish the way that I did. And that’s how I feel right now.
“The way I’m preparing myself for this coming season is to play 202 games. I want to be healthy. I want to be on the field every day.”
That nice little bit of hyperbole makes for a good sound bite, but while it figures to be a surprise if there are more than 162 games to be played for the White Sox in 2024, it’s a question as to whether there are more than 162 games for Moncada to play with the White Sox, period.
Under that contract, his salary skyrocketed this season to $24.8 million, and there’s a team option for 2025 which would inch his salary even higher, to a nice, round $25 million. Moncada’s below-average production in most of his major league seasons – he was just shy of average with a 97 OPS-plus last year – make it a tough cost for a White Sox team that has shrunk its payroll significantly this offseason.
Though Chris Getz and his fellow White Sox decision-makers aren’t keen on using the word “rebuild” thanks to the connotations that stem from Rick Hahn’s failed yearslong project, the team does seem to be at the start of another rebuilding effort, even if doesn’t end up lasting very long. Moncada’s $25 million salary might not have a place in that plan, just like Getz moved on from mainstays Tim Anderson and Liam Hendriks at the outset of this offseason.
But there still seems to be a lot to learn about where Getz goes from here. He’s focused on short-term, low-cost additions this winter, for the most part, and though there’s excitement coming from the minor leagues, not every position has a future cornerstone penciled in. It remains to be seen whether the White Sox will be built to contend for a division title in 2025.
Moncada, and to a less expensive extent teammate Eloy Jiménez, could have a big impact on that decision. Will another disappointing campaign from the two make Getz’s decision to jettison their growing salaries an easy one? Or will surging seasons force Getz to consider altering his plans on the fly and making relatively affordable choices to keep both in the middle of the lineup, boosting his team’s chances in 2025?
“I would love to stay with the White Sox, if they want me here,” Moncada said. “But I don’t know. I’m very thankful to the White Sox for the opportunity they have given me after I was traded from the Red Sox. They’ve been treating me very well. I like the organization. I like the city. I like the fans. I would like to stay here.”
How Getz and the White Sox approach that forked path at the close of the season depends entirely on Moncada’s ability to deliver on the long awaited promise. The third baseman’s late-season surge sparked thoughts that maybe that player was still in there, even after the seasons of being physically limited. But still, that was only a brief glimpse. Season-long demonstrations have rarely been possible as Moncada has been banged up with one ailment or another.
And so those are the high stakes for Moncada in 2024. He’ll either emerge triumphant and force the White Sox into a hard decision about whether to keep him in place, or he’ll be unable to reach those heights once more and watch a “what could have been” South Side career come to a close.
He can’t control the injuries, of course. But he can control how he approaches things.
“I’m motivated and excited because I’m healthy. That’s the only thing I want,” Moncada said. “If I’m healthy, I know I can do a lot of good things in the field. I’m excited right now to get to spring training and start working.
“I think god has saved something good for me. Hopefully we are going to see that. Hopefully I’ll be able to be healthy and really show and really display all I can do on the field.”
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