GM meetings signal start of important offseason for White Sox

With manager Pedro Grifol in place, the White Sox shift focus on addressing the roster.

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White Sox general manager Rick Hahn (right) and manager Pedro Grifol.

Now that new manager Pedro Grifol (left) is in place, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn can get to work building the 2023 roster.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

LAS VEGAS — Pedro Grifol will manage the first game of his career against the World Series champion Astros on March 30, probably after a ring ceremony that should inspire the White Sox manager and his team to play out the same scene.

Four days after Grifol’s hiring, it’s something of a mystery what his starting lineup will look like that day beyond Cy Young Award finalist Dylan Cease — maybe the first easy choice of Grifol’s career when he names his Opening Day starter. 

At this week’s general managers meetings, perhaps Sox GM Rick Hahn will offer a hint about plans he, Grifol and vice president Ken Williams have for the roster now that Grifol is in place and the hot stove is underway.

Grifol takes over after two seasons of Tony La Russa, including a disappointing 81-81 this year, with a core of the roster intact, although first baseman Jose Abreu, shortstop Elvis Andrus and right-handed pitchers Johnny Cueto and Vince Velasquez became free agents Monday. 

Cease, Michael Kopech, Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito return to the rotation, while the bullpen looks to have Liam Hendriks, Kendall Graveman and other veterans — and perhaps healthier versions of lefties Aaron Bummer and Garrett Crochet (Tommy John surgery). 

Shortstop Tim Anderson, third baseman Yoan Moncada and outfielders Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Andrew Vaughn are also back.

Hahn remains bullish about what the Sox assembled in a rebuild that has netted two unsuccessful playoff appearances. 

“We view this as still very [much] a championship-caliber core,” he said Thursday. “Obviously, we had significant regression across the board in several key players. Job one is figuring out which of those is correctable.”

Next is getting the underperformers back to levels that were “reasonable to project them for last season before they fell off,” Hahn said. 

“If we’re able to accomplish that with numerous players, wholesale changes or radical shift in direction is by no means necessary,” he said.

Improvement hinges on staying healthier and “regaining our offensive approach” under a to-be-named hitting coach and Grifol, himself a former hitting coach in the minors, Hahn said.

“Those are two keys to our success,” he said. “Improving ourselves defensively, how we run the bases, a little better lineup balance [and better] approach to each at-bat is called for as well. Whether that comes from internal improvement or external additions, we’re hoping for a combination of both. But we don’t view this as drastic wholesale changes on the horizon. We need to get these guys back to the level they’re capable of playing at.”

Cuban prospect Oscar Colas would bring a left-handed bat to a right-handed-heavy lineup and upgrade right field defensively. But pinning hopes on an unproven rookie coming out of spring training has risks.

In any case, recrafting a defensively challenged outfield configuration of Jimenez, Gavin Sheets and Vaughn — the latter two converted first baseman — is necessary.

“We had a few guys playing out of position last year, just [from] the way the roster fit together, and then driven more significantly due to the injuries,” Hahn said. “We want to avoid that. We want to get to the point where we have guys playing in a role they’re more suited for, and if that means we have to make some alterations from the roster from the outside [via trades and free agency], that’s the route we’ll have to go.”

Anderson’s $12.5 million option was exercised, as expected; 35-year-old second baseman Josh Harrison’s $5.625 million option ($1.5 million buyout) was not. Left fielder A.J. Pollock has to choose between a $13 million player option or a $5 million buyout. 

The Sox don’t have any qualifying offers to consider. As for arbitration-eligibles, pitchers Giolito, Cease, Kopech and Reynaldo Lopez will be tendered contracts, infielder Danny Mendick and right-hander Jose Ruiz probably will and outfielder Adam Engel might not.

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