LAS VEGAS — The White Sox have so much riding on bounceback seasons from underperformers.
Their 2023 hopes have been pinned on new manager Pedro Grifol’s ability to inject new life into a clubhouse, his acceptance of analytics information coming from the baseball operations department, being a “stickler for defense” and other basic fundamentals of winning baseball and doing whatever hangs from his tool belt to make players perform to levels they’re handsomely paid for.
Whether Grifol can get players like catcher Yasmani Grandal and third baseman Yoan Moncada to hit like it’s 2021 and 2019 is another matter, but it matters a lot. Both are switch hitters with high walk and on-base history who provide the bulk of the Sox’ left-handed hitting.
Both were pretty bad last season.
“Lineup balances would be a benefit for us,” Hahn said. “Fundamentally doing more damage against right-handed pitching is a priority.”
Grandal is in the last year of his club record, four-year, $73 million contract and Moncada will be paid $17,800 this season. Limited by injuries in 2022, Moncada hit .212/.273/.353 with 12 homers in 104 games while providing good defense at third base and Grandal batted .202/.301/.269 with five homers in 99 games, including 71 at catcher where he struggled defensively.
“Yas had his struggles and physical issues in ’22 and it’s important not to lose sight how productive he was the year before and having Yasmani be right, the 2021 [Grandal],” Hahn said.
That version of Grandal, which walked a lot and hit home runs, would be “a huge asset,” Hahn said.
So forget about Willson Contreras being targeted by Hahn this offseason, a notion Hahn chuckled off at the GM meetings.
“Fortunately we’ll have a full offseason to get [Grandal] healthy,” Hahn said.
Grifol, a Cuban-American, is a former catcher and a fellow Miami guy with a similar background as Grandal. They were photographed in a suite at a Blackhawks game the day Grifol was hired.
“His work with Pedro we think will be beneficial and, knock on wood, we’ll get him back to the level he was at in ’21 which would be a huge shot in the arm,” Hahn said.
Grandal will be 34, though, and as Hahn said, “it’s tricky to know what you’ll get from any player,” let alone one on the back end of his career.
“There’s always the health risk with any player but it’s more compounded with guys who have had previous injury issues,” Hahn said. “You factor that the best you can and you spend a decent amount of time looking for the underlying causes for why a guy fell off and whether the underlying metrics and analysis show a reasonable expectation of regression. Some guys it does and others you might have more red flags on.”
Grandal’s and long-term contracts of players like Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez were cited as reasons the Sox won’t be throwing money at their needs this offseason. Hahn is exploring trades to spruce up his roster, banking on the best of the backs of players’ baseball cards and a newer coaching staff headed by Grifol.
Grifol says it starts in spring training.
“Set that foundation and have them get some feedback and see how far we can take it individually,” he said.
“Just about everything that could go wrong last year went wrong,” Hahn said. “So there is an element of better health and guys being with a new staff, having a new voice and just natural regression back to their normal levels of performance will improve us. That said, I don’t think there’s anyone in the room who’s pounding the table for ‘Let’s stand pat, run it back with these guys.’ We know there’s areas we can improve with these guys.
“Even last year, Opening Day when we’re being projected to win the division and some people projected us to go deeper than that. We knew there were areas we could solidify and get better. We certainly believe that things evening out will be in our favor next year in terms of guys getting closer to their traditional levels of health and playing and performance, but we still know we’ve got work to do.”