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Stop The Clock on Nick Madrigal

Having Nick Madrigal at 2B on Thursday, March 26th is the right thing to do for this team, service time be damned.
White Sox Call Up Nick Madrigal

Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

We're a few days away from there being actual baseball games in Arizona. Most of the offseason tinkering is completed minus a minor tweak around the edges, maybe. I spent a portion of the offseason outlining ways the Sox could reinforce the roster by creating depth and doing so in a manner that wouldn't have been cost-prohibitive. The recent signings of Brad Miller and Wilmer Flores for small sums left me rather perplexed as to why the Sox wouldn't try to bring in more certainty when filling out a utility spot versus relying on the unproven Danny Mendick.

So it looks as though when the season opens on March 26th that Leury Garcia or the aforementioned Danny Mendick will open the season at the keystone. We all know this is a relatively short-term situation as the heir apparent and long-term holder of the position, Nick Madrigal will be up to claim his spot soon. But if the Sox are serious about trying to win the AL Central in 2020, a season in which they have no real margin for error with their roster, should Madrigal break camp with the club?

I feel about 99% certain that the Sox will send Madrigal to AAA Charlotte for the first two weeks of the season in order to ensure he doesn't reach free agency until after the 2026 season. I'm by no means a leader of the Nick Madrigal fan club, but the fact remains he is the best 2B option in the organization. He will enhance this team's chances to win and play October baseball more than Danny Mendick or Leury Garcia. Madrigal is a Top 40 prospect in the sport and if this team is truly serious about 2020, he should be in the lineup on March 26th.

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

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I understand how the service time game works in baseball. I know that having Madrigal on the Opening Day roster means he could reach free agency a year sooner and would increase the likelihood of being a Super 2 candidate in arbitration, thus depleting a small percentage of the Reinsdorf family trust a little bit quicker. None of this should matter, however. If the window is to truly open this year, the White Sox need to have their best players on the field for all 162 games.

We're not that far removed from Luis Robert signing a long-term contract with the Sox, thus ensuring he would be in Chicago to start this season. In fact, the one thing we can definitively say about Rick Hahn during his tenure as GM of our Sox is that he is very skilled at locking up his young talent. So if Madrigal is brought up to start the season, why shouldn't we believe Hahn can do the one thing he does really well again with Madrigal? Given Madrigal's profile, he is not the type of player that would command a Luis Robert or Eloy Jimenez type contract. Madrigal is a high-contact, speed, and defense profile that doesn't equate to nine-figure deals. So there truly is no reason for delaying his arrival in Chicago. Starting the 2020 season at the big-league level really should have no bearing on the club's ability to lock up Madrigal long-term.

From a baseball standpoint, Madrigal again represents the best option for the Sox at 2B. Throughout his minor league career, he has never struck out more than 4.7% of the time at any level. His elite bat-to-ball skills, speed, and solid overall baserunning will help provide this lineup with some nice length and should balance out the swing-and-miss that is present with the rest of the lineup. The soon to be 23-year-old has garnered tremendous praise for his glovework at 2B, leading many scouts to predict him as a future Gold Glove winner at the position. For a team that has some volatility on the defensive side, adding a player of Madrigal's caliber from the outset of the season could be a boon to a pitching staff that is littered with youth and contact-inducing southpaws.

Through each stop of his minor league progression in 2019, Madrigal stepped up his performance. After putting together a relatively uninspiring .272/.346/.377 line at A+ Winston-Salem, he went to Birmingham in the offensively challenged Southern League where hitting prospects typically go to die. Nick elevated his performance at the toughest level of minor-league competition and slashed .341/.400/.451, good for a 150 wRC+ in 42 games that earned him a final 2019 promotion to AAA Charlotte. It was at this level we saw an interesting tweak to his game, as Madrigal upped his walk rate to 9.7%. If he is able to maintain, at least, a league-average walk rate given his bat-to-ball skills, the Sox will have an average offensive player, at worst. Couple this with the high-level defense he is projected to provide and the team will have a very useful player — one that provides more benefit to the 2020 squad the Mendick or Garcia. In short, I'm not really sure what Madrigal has left to prove at the minor league level.

At this point with the roster fairly set, every single win will be precious for the 2020 White Sox. This team has little to no margin for error if they are to capture a division title this season. With all this in mind, it simply serves no purpose to manipulate Madrigal's service time in the interest of preserving his control for the 2026 season. The competitive window is supposed to be opening in 2020 and the best way to bolster that would be by fielding the best possible 26-man roster when the season begins. Having Nick Madrigal at 2B on Thursday, March 26th is the right thing to do for this team, service time be damned.