After last winter’s disappointing offseason for the White Sox, the talk of this offseason was, well, that fans were sick of talk. Rick Hahn even acknowledged that he realized fans were tired of talk and wanted to see results. “It’s my experience that people aren’t too interested in hearing about the labor; they want to see the baby,” said Hahn at the GM Meetings in Arizona last week. Well, the first baby of the Sox offseason has arrived in the form of Yasmani Grandal, who received the richest contract in team history at four years, $73 million this morning.
So, what are the Sox getting in Grandal? For starters, Grandal instantly becomes the best catcher in the American League. Grandal provides premium value hitting from both sides of the plate, as well as defensive value behind the plate. It’s hard to imagine a better piece for the Sox to add in kicking off their pivotal offseason.
Grandal checks two big boxes for the White Sox: he can fill a DH role, and he’s a switch-hitter. A left-handed power bat was priority number one for the team this offseason. In Grandal, the White Sox are getting that and then some. During Grandal’s lone season in Milwaukee, he paced all National League catchers in home runs with 28 and finished second in RBIs and SLG%. Grandal also led all catchers in baseball with a .380 OBP while walking at a 14% clip.
These numbers are fairly consistent for Grandal across his career. Since 2015, Grandal leads all catchers in baseball with 115 home runs, and his 24.9 fWAR in that period leads all catchers in baseball as well. Grandal’s 5.2 fWAR in 2019 would have been the first 5 fWAR-season from a White Sox catcher since Carlton Fisk in 1990.
Since he’s making the move to a very hitter-friendly park full time, there’s no reason to think that he won’t continue to put up power numbers similar to his last five seasons.
Where Grandal provides the most value, however, is behind the plate. Grandal is arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball. Grandal was tied for second-most extra strikes from framing in 2019 among qualified catchers, at +13. For reference, White Sox All-Star catcher James McCann was last in the league in this category at -16. Grandal’s defense is what sets him apart from comparable offensive catchers in the American League such as Gary Sanchez.
The Grandal signing provides numerous benefits for the White Sox roster. According to Bob Nightengale, the team plans on having Grandal primarily play catch, but they will also have him DH and play first base. Grandal’s versatility puts an end to the team’s search for a high-cost impact DH, eases the pressure to add left-handed bats to the lineup, and also leaves a spot on the roster for James McCann. McCann, who was an All-Star in 2019, had a more pedestrian second half of the season and proved the need for the team to sign a true everyday catcher.
With rosters expanding to 26 players next season, it’s possible the team could carry three catchers with Zack Collins filling the 26th spot on the roster. However, it’s hard not to think this move could make Collins trade bait more than anything. This almost certainly spells the end of Seby Zavala‘s time as a potential major-league regular. It’s difficult to know exactly what this move means for the young catchers in the organization, but it would not be surprising to see one or more of them moved to other teams in trades.
With Andrew Vaughn coming down the pipeline and Jose Abreu expected to sign an extension at some point this winter, first base becomes crowded with the addition of Grandal and makes Collins’ versatility to DH or play first less valuable for the Sox at the moment.
This move also has important implications regarding the team’s approach to the rest of the offseason. With the lefty power bat/DH role now filled, the team has more options in their pursuit of a bat to fill the hole that currently exists in right field. Free agents such as Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna now make a lot of sense for the Sox moving forward, despite both being right-handed hitters.
Perhaps more importantly, this signals the White Sox are serious about moving the rebuild into its contention phase. Executive Vice President Kenny Williams told ESPN’s Jeff Passan as much immediately after news of the Grandal signing broke.
“It’s clearly [sic.] we’re trying to put ourselves in a window that could very well start next year but extend to the next five to seven years,” said Williams. While many Sox fans are quick to criticize Williams for his blustery talk, and rightfully so with the disappointments the organization has experienced on the open market recently, beginning the offseason with the richest contract in team history certainly signifies the team is serious about moving onto the next stage of the rebuild this time.
Before the White Sox fanbase had even had a chance to fully process the Grandal news, reports began to swirl regarding the team moving full steam ahead to get a deal done with Mets free agent pitcher Zack Wheeler. Wheeler is the free-agent pitcher that makes the most sense for the team at the moment. The team is likely not going to be in on Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg, so Wheeler is decidedly the next best pitcher on the market after those two.
Yasmani Grandal makes the South Siders all the more attractive a destination for pitchers now, and with the organization showing a willingness to seriously open the wallet this offseason, the Wheeler rumors are worth monitoring. Wheeler would be an exciting addition to the middle of a promising young White Sox rotation and will come at a price much more doable for the White Sox organization.
There’s no question the Grandal signing is very exciting. He was the team’s number one priority this offseason and they wasted no time going out and getting him. While he fills a major need for the team, this is just the beginning of the work the organization needs to do this offseason to make 2020 the true beginning of the contention window. But with this signing, early indications are the team is aware of and willing to do what they need to make 2020 the best season on 35th and Shields in a long time.
Hopefully, this move marks the start of a transformative offseason for the White Sox.