Yasmani Grandal had been with the White Sox for about as long as it takes to strap on a pair of shin guards and a chest protector. Why wait another minute to pick up the phone and start making the rounds?
Already, he was sick and tired of the Sox’ losing ways. Already, he was impatient for the winning to begin. So, almost as soon as the 31-year-old catcher signed a four-year, $73 million free-agent contract with the Sox a week before Thanksgiving, he was talking to, and/or texting with, pitching coach Don Cooper, assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler, All-Star starter Lucas Giolito, up-and-comer Reynaldo Lopez and others.
Grandal reached Giolito as the 25-year-old righty was leaving a workout in Los Angeles. Giolito was peppered with questions about his pitching style, the successful adjustments he has made and his plan of attack with veteran Sox catcher James McCann. He fired back by picking Grandal’s brain on what it takes for an entire team to rally each day around the expectation of victory.
They talked about the guys in the Sox clubhouse and their individual strengths and personalities. They talked about the overall team dynamic, which Giolito described as being as positive as ever when the 2019 season ended. They discussed culture and on-field goals and agreed that the time had arrived for the Sox to end a streak of seven losing seasons and chase the team’s first postseason berth since 2008.
When they finally hung up, Giolito realized he’d been sitting in traffic and yammering with Grandal for nearly an hour. It was something the workout buddy in the passenger’s seat had noticed.
“Man, he’s going to be a great fit for our team,” Giolito said to Braves left-hander Max Fried, a former high school teammate and one of his closest friends. “This is a great move for us.”
If the Sox are right about Grandal, he’ll pick up where he left off with the Brewers in 2019 and continue to produce at an All-Star level offensively. The Cuban-born, Miami-raised switch hitter posted career-highs last season in homers (28) and RBI (77) and walked over 100 times. His .380 on-base percentage led all major-league catchers.
And if the Sox are right about what the two-time All-Star can do behind the plate, he’ll maintain his standing as one of the game’s elite pitch-framers and lead a strong defensive 1-2 punch along with McCann, who also was an All-Star in 2019.
But what the Sox are really counting on from Grandal is, well, call it leadership. Really, though, it’s more palpable than that. It’s an edge and a desire — a need — to win. Grandal has done a lot of it, most notably during his four seasons with the Dodgers.
“You obviously can pick up on that pretty quick,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “He’s a guy who cares about doing things the right way, is marvelous at preparation and game planning. In some ways, and it’s not surprising given his position, he’s like having an extra coach out there — but an extremely competitive and serious one who takes his craft very seriously and models the type of approach to the game that you want your young guys to emulate.”
Grandal is well aware there are some players he can affect more than others. A guy like shortstop Tim Anderson rolls out of bed ready to compete. Other young position players on the rise — namely infielder Yoan Moncada and outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert — already answer to veteran star Jose Abreu, one of the great run producers in Sox history.
McCann has been around the block, too, and no one questions his work ethic.
“The catching group, the way that I look at it, it’s a unit,” Grandal said. “If [McCann] does good, I’m doing good and the pitching staff is doing good. . . . At the end of the day, if we win a World Series, we’re all going to have rings.”
If Grandal can help raise the bar just a bit with those guys, terrific. But he’s here most of all for the young pitchers — Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Lopez, Giolito et al.
“One hundred percent,” he said.
“You see the guys that we have. You see the young arms. It’s something to be excited about. Kopech is on his way back. [Carlos] Rodon is on his way back. Cease has got a big arm. Lopey’s got a huge arm as well. . . . I’m just here trying to figure out how I can make these guys better.”
Step 1: Pick up that phone and start making the rounds.
“I feel like everything, when you do it individual, it’s much better,” Grandal said. “I like to be just one-on-one with each guy, talk to them, listen to their concerns and give my thoughts of how we can change or improve, and then hear what they have to say.
“A lot of times, it gets down to trust. A lot of times, we are human beings so we have to be outside the field to talk about different things. We are going to do everything that we can do to gain that trust and kind of have them trust me as much as possible.”