Yasmani Grandal came to the South Side, in part, because of pitching. And now pitching is coming to the South Side because of Grandal.
The new White Sox catcher, the first of what’s turned out to be multiple splashes for Rick Hahn’s front office this winter, offered little more than hope that fellow free agents would follow his lead in buying into what the White Sox have cooking. Talking after he signed in November, he suggested that free agents should be attracted to a team with a bright future powered by a group of young players who broke out during the 2019 season.
But as a catcher, he honed in on the pitching.
Perhaps still the area with the most question marks on the White Sox roster, Grandal was not deterred by queries of whether Lucas Giolito’s transformation will be a permanent one, whether Reynaldo Lopez can find some consistency, whether Dylan Cease’s struggles in 2019 were merely first-taste-of-the-bigs growing pains, whether Michael Kopech will be the same pitcher who was promised before his Tommy John surgery and whether there will be enough depth to prevent a repeat of the Ervin Santana-Manny Banuelos-Odrisamer Despaigne-Dylan Covey parade that blew up the rotation’s numbers last season.
Instead, Grandal saw all that young pitching talent — and saw its upside at the same time.
“Their pitching staff excites me a lot just because there are a lot of good, young arms that can be great,” he said after he signed. “Hopefully, I can help them out to be the best that they can be. Hopefully, by the end of the four years we made a deep run in the postseason and, god willing, we were able to win a championship.”
All those aforementioned questions are valid ones and ones that will be answered in due time. Simultaneously true is that this collection of pitchers has the potential to be a formidable one. Giolito predicted it could be one of the most dominant rotations in the game, and while a lot has to happen for that to come true, it’s hardly impossible.
That’s what Grandal saw a chance to be a part of.
“I don't care where I'm going as long as I see a future in the pitching staff,” he said. “If I see that I can help that pitching staff, for me, that's pretty much No. 1. So their sales pitch was that: ‘Look at the young arms we have, look at the guys we have coming up. We have an opportunity here to win, and we think you can help them out.’
“To tell you the truth with the White Sox, I hadn't really checked their pitching staff out too much. I heard of Giolito and Lopez, so once I started getting into it, it was pretty much an easy decision for me.”
And now it’s even better.
Yes, as excited as Grandal was back in November, he’s likely more excited now after the signing of veteran free-agent Dallas Keuchel. The freshly 32-year-old left-hander is bringing stability, reliability, mentorship and plenty of quality pitching to the White Sox rotation. He was a big get.
How’d the White Sox get him? Well, Grandal, for one.
“What really brought me in was when Yaz signs,” Keuchel said Monday, “and the backstops are just rock solid. Me, as a pitcher, I’m going to be drawn to the backstop situation first because you win and lose with the catchers. And I think that's really going to be a strength for us this year and hopefully for years to come.”
Grandal’s obviously not the White Sox only catcher, and James McCann probably had at least a little influence on what Keuchel, who played college ball with McCann at the University of Arkansas, thought of that “backstop situation.” Both Grandal and McCann earn rave reviews from their pitchers for what they do to make them better. McCann’s game-planning was discussed early and often during his All-Star season in 2019. Grandal brings a ton, including the defensive stats that McCann does not, especially when it comes to pitch-framing, which obviously sounds like a plus if you’re the guy trying to get strikes called.
Grandal didn’t sound like he was planning on doing much in the way of recruiting, saying last month at the Winter Meetings: “I just let the front office do their job. That’s why they are there. If they have questions that they want to ask me, I’m happy to look at numbers and help out as much as I can. But no, the front office has an idea of what they want, has an idea of what they need to help the team. And yeah, that’s why I’m here. I’m going to be helping the team more on the field than off the field.”
But Grandal might have had more of an impact in that area than he intended. Keuchel said he reached out to a few of his new teammates right away, including Gio Gonzalez and Jose Abreu, but Grandal was the first he listed. Who knows, maybe Grandal did do some behind-the-scenes work. Regardless, Grandal’s mere presence on the roster was a draw for Keuchel. Surely the chance to make $74 million ($1 million more than Grandal, should the White Sox pick up a club option) over four years had plenty to do with it, too.
Grandal liked what he saw on the White Sox pitching staff, and he chose to be a part of its rise. He’s expected to play a big part in that by helping all these young arms blossom into the kind of rotation Giolito envisions.
Turns out that before even taking the field, Grandal’s already helped make that rotation a lot better.