Pedro Grifol needs White Sox to play hard for him: ‘It’s everything really’

The team’s core players performed below expectations in 2022.

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White Sox manager Pedro Grifol at the winter meetings Tuesday.

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol speaks during the Major League Baseball winter meetings Tuesday.

Gregory Bull/AP

SAN DIEGO — Pedro Grifol has a lot to do and prove in 2023 as he takes over as manager of a White Sox team that went 81-81 in former manager Tony La Russa’s second year.

Grifol will be asked to prepare the Sox better and to get more out of the roster. Core players like Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez need to stay healthy and live up to their ability.

If the Sox have any chance of being a championship-caliber team in what should be the middle of their contention window, their big-money core of young talents signed to long-term deals needs to perform like championship-caliber players. That falls on them, but it also falls on Grifol, a relationship-builder who got the most out of players like All-Star catcher Salvador Perez when he was a coach with the Royals.

It’s often said the most important trait of a good manager is one whose players play hard for him.

“It’s everything, really,” Grifol said Tuesday at the winter meetings. “When players want to get to the ballpark to play for each other and play for an organization and a manager and a staff, everything comes together.”

Grifol also wants to maintain a fun environment, something that was common under manager Rick Renteria but fleeting under La Russa, who managed two seasons after Renteria was fired. Pitcher Lucas Giolito often said fun was lacking and needed last season.

“That enjoyment that players need to be able to perform on a daily basis and motivate themselves on a daily basis and be motivated by us, it’s really important,” Grifol said.

“So part of my job is to delegate to our staff, allow them to work, allow the players to be themselves, whatever that is. And obviously we’ll have our rules here and there. Everybody’s got to stay in between those lines, but for the most part, those lines are flexible. Go ahead and be yourself and enjoy the game. When you get that type of environment, you’re setting yourself up for good things.”

Good things, not injuries and underperformance, will be required from Robert, Moncada and Jimenez.

Robert will earn $9.5 million in the fourth year of a six-year, $50 million deal. He played in 98 games in 2022, batting .284/.319/.426 with 12 homers. Battling wrist problems in the second half, one of several physical ailments that bothered him, Robert did not homer and had five doubles in August and September.

His biggest feat of 2022 was buying a $12 million home in Weston, Florida.

“My first impression on Luis is this guy’s an MVP candidate when I first laid eyes on him,” said Grifol, who has seen plenty of Robert as an American League Central foe. There’s nothing on the baseball field he can’t do.

“We’ve just got to keep him healthy.”

Grifol, new hitting coach Jose Castro and field coordinator Mike Tosar visited Robert and his family, spending “quality time” at Robert’s new digs which includes a hitting cage, Grifol said.

“He’s excited to get going,” Grifol said. “He’s in the process of getting healthy. He feels great. So we’re looking for big things from him this year.”

Moncada batted .212/.273/.354 with 12 homers and 51 RBI in 104 games.

He earns $17 million in 2023 in the fourth year of a seven-year, $70 million deal. Since batting .315/.367/.548 with 25 homers in 144 games in 2019 and then signing his deal, Moncada has disappointed offensively.

Jimenez will earn $9.5 million in the fifth year of a $43 million deal. Jimenez was held to 84 games because of a hamstring injury but batted .295/.358/.500 with 16 homers in 84 games. When healthy, he can be an offensive force.

“They have to want to be great, they have to want to work,” general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday of the players. “And they have to want to be part of a championship-caliber organization. The manager and the coaches play a role in creating the culture for the opportunity for that person to thrive, where they understand the expectations, where they are held accountable for their actions whether they are living up to those standards or not. On the opportunities where they are not, there are repercussions.

“Pedro and his staff are going to thrive in that area.”

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