White Sox

Why, with Yasmani Grandal, the White Sox spent big on a free-agent catcher

Why, with Yasmani Grandal, the White Sox spent big on a free-agent catcher

The White Sox made one heck of a free-agent splash Thursday, announcing a four-year deal with catcher Yasmani Grandal that at $73 million is the richest in club history.

The move is totally in line with everything the White Sox have talked about adding to the team: an impact player from outside the organization, a hitter with power and on-base skills that can slot into the middle of the lineup, a player who meshes with the long-term plans and who can help transition things from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

But it didn't address one of the team's stated positional needs: right field, designated hitter and starting pitcher.

Don't think for one second that's a critique of this deal. Everything about this signing screams "bingo" for the White Sox as they are likely just getting started in what's expected to be a busy offseason.

But there are some out there who might be asking, "Why would the White Sox spend big money on a catcher, a position they seemed to have filled, when they could spend that big money in more pressing areas?"

First off, priorities can change if new opportunities arise. The White Sox aren't taking anything off the table this offseason, and that included upgrading at catcher.

“You still want to be opportunistic,” general manager Rick Hahn said during the GM meetings last week in Arizona. “You can't control when certain opportunities arise, and we want to take advantage in the market and be flexible.”

The White Sox saw an opportunity with Grandal and made it happen.

"Still," you might wonder, "why at catcher, where the White Sox already had an All Star in James McCann?"

McCann, under team control for one more season, was an All Star in 2019, and he deserved it after a sensational first half that saw him slash .316/.371/.502, a dramatic transformation from his five years of mediocre offensive production with the Detroit Tigers. After the All-Star break, however, those numbers returned to what they looked like when he played for the division rivals, a .226/.281/.413 line in his final 55 games of the campaign.

But despite that midseason All-Star status, it is reasonable to ask: Which McCann will the White Sox get in 2020? They can count on his work ethic, one described as unlike anything his teammates have seen. They can count on his work with the pitching staff, especially Lucas Giolito, who heaped plenty of credit on McCann in a season that saw the young righty finish seventh in the AL Cy Young vote. But can they count on his bat?

They can count on Grandal's bat. He's got more home runs than any catcher in baseball since 2015 (117) and ranks third among big league catchers in RBIs (322) during the same span. He hit 20-plus homers in each of the last four seasons. In 2019, he hit a new career high in that department with 28 long balls, also reaching career highs in RBIs and walks, with 77 and 109, respectively. Those 109 bases on balls were the fourth most in baseball, with two of the only three players to walk more being Mike Trout and Alex Bregman. Grandal had more than double the amount of walks of Yolmer Sanchez, who led the White Sox with 44 of them in 2019.

Behind McCann, there were options, sure. But unknown ones.

Zack Collins was slated behind McCann on the depth chart, though he provided little insight into what kind of offensive or defensive player he’ll be at the big league level in two brief stints of major league service in 2019. The .323/.441/.631 line he put up at Triple-A Charlotte in between those two stints provides hope he can be an impactful offensive contributor somewhere in the White Sox lineup.

Seby Zavala is still on the 40-man roster, though he picked up only one hit and struck out nine times in a dozen trips to the plate in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trip to the big leagues over the summer. Yermin Mercedes didn’t get the September call-up many fans were clamoring for after he hit an impressive .317/.388/.581 with 23 homers and 80 RBIs in the minors, and was guaranteed nothing more than a shot after the White Sox added him to the 40-man roster Wednesday, preventing another team from snapping him up in next month’s Rule 5 draft.

Grandal answers not just the immediate but the long-term questions about the catcher position. All the others — McCann, Collins, Zavala, Mercedes — could still factor into the mix. But Grandal takes a position that was a question mark and makes it an exclamation point.

The White Sox might have a solution at DH now, too. We'll have to see how confident Hahn is in a potential rotation there involving Grandal, Collins, McCann and Jose Abreu. But expect the White Sox to continue looking outside the organization for help in right field and in the starting rotation, at the least. Just because they didn't address those needs with their first addition of the winter doesn't mean they won't.

The White Sox need at catcher was nowhere near as pressing as needs elsewhere, true. But signing Grandal was an opportunity too good to pass up, and the White Sox capitalized with one of their biggest offseason splashes ever.

It makes all the sense in the world.

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: A.J. Pierzynski's most powerful month on the South Side

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AP

White Sox 2005 Rewind: A.J. Pierzynski's most powerful month on the South Side

May 2005 was A.J. Pierzynski’s most powerful month in his eight years in a White Sox uniform.

Like plenty of other hitters dealing with the suboptimal hitting conditions of April — including teammates Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye — Pierzynski had a slowish start in the first month with his new team. A .269 average and a .329 on-base percentage hardly counts as an awful stretch, but Pierzynski had just one home run and only two RBIs in his first 19 games of the season.

That turned around in a hurry, and it started May 4 against the Kansas City Royals.

Pierzynski launched a two-run homer as part of a two-out rally in the fourth inning, the blast proving to be the difference in a 4-2 White Sox win.

Math aficionados will know that was just his second homer and third and fourth RBIs. But by the end of May, Pierzynski had eight home runs and 19 RBIs.

What changed? He unleashed the thunder in his bat, hitting seven homers while posting a .557 slugging percentage and a .903 OPS. All those numbers rank among the best in a single month of Pierzynski’s White Sox career.

The seven homers are the most Pierzynski ever hit in a month with the White Sox. The .557 slugging percentage was topped just three more times and not again until August 2011. Same goes for the .903 OPS, which was bested just twice.


So it’s not to say that Pierzynski’s offensive success in May 2005 was a rarity, as he was a good hitting catcher throughout his South Side tenure. But the specific power numbers were rarely seen again, certainly not over the following five seasons. So in a way, this was power from an unexpected source, and it helped the White Sox play eight games above .500 during the month.

As #SoxRewind continues moving through that month of May, we’ll see more explosive hitting from Pierzynski. The home runs came in a concentrated bunch from there, with the catcher homering in four straight games from May 14 through May 18.

But this one from May 4 was the very first, a helpful launch for Pierzynski to bust out of his early season power slump and the beginning of the most powerful month of his White Sox career.

What else?

— It’s hard to imagine that in the year they won the World Series, Hawk Harrelson wasn’t behind the mic for every inning. But this one featured the broadcasting team of Darrin Jackson and Donn Pall while Harrelson was recovering from corrective eye surgery. The man they called “The Pope” had a pretty nice career pitching for his hometown team, posting a 3.45 ERA in 394.1 innings out of the bullpen.

— Jermaine Dye hit one of his two triples of 2005 in this one. He sent a deep fly ball to the warning track in right field, and while Matt Stairs made an admirable effort, the ball bounced off his glove and rolled away, allowing Dye to make it all the way to third. He had to wait four months for the next one, tripling off Jarrod Washburn, the pitcher the White Sox faced in Game 2 of the ALCS that postseason, in an early September game against the Los Angeles Angels.

— Mike Sweeney was a notorious “White Sox killer” during his lengthy and productive career with the Royals. He drove in both Kansas City runs in this game. His numbers in 2005 were downright ridiculous in his 15 games against the South Siders: .362/.426/.759 with five homers, eight doubles, eight walks, 10 runs scored and 15 RBIs.

— Cliff Politte did an excellent job putting out Freddy Garcia’s fire in the top of the seventh inning. Garcia pitched another strong game, but he departed after loading the bases on a pair of walks and a base hit in the seventh. Politte entered with the bases juiced and only one out against the aforementioned “Sox killer” Sweeney. He got Sweeney to fly out, driving in one run, but ended the inning four pitches later with a strikeout of Ken Harvey. That sacrifice fly was the last of the scoring, as Damaso Marte and Dustin Hermanson finished off the Royals in another great job by the White Sox bullpen.

— I wrote about Jon Garland’s remarkable start to the 2005 season Friday. But Garcia strung together some sterling efforts, as well, in these early weeks of the campaign. With 6.1 innings of two-run ball in this game, he turned in a third straight strong outing. In those three starts, he allowed just five earned runs in 20.1 innings (a 2.21 ERA). He had a few more stretches that stacked up to this one during the season, but not many that were better.

Since you been gone

While #SoxRewind is extensive, it doesn’t include all 162 regular-season contests, meaning we’re going to be skipping over some games. So what’d we miss since last time?

May 3, 2005: The Royals broke a 2-all tie with a pair of solo homers off Mark Buehrle in the top of the sixth. The White Sox clawed back, with an Aaron Rowand homer halving the deficit and a two-run double by Carl Everett in the eighth delivering the tying and winning runs. White Sox win, 5-4, improve to 19-7.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Sunday, when you can catch the May 5, 2005, game against the Royals, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. Buckle up, this is a wacky one.

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White Sox vs. Red Sox simulation on MLB The Show 20 (Game 8)

White Sox vs. Red Sox simulation on MLB The Show 20 (Game 8)

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. In our simulation, the Southsiders started 3-3, dropping a series vs. the Royals and winning a series vs. the Indians. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

After an unusual Friday off day, the White Sox bats continued to stay on fire against the Red Sox on a sun soaked day at Fenway Park.

Jose Abreu gave the South Siders an early lead with a solo shot off Brian Johnson in the first and was followed by an Eloy Jimenez RBI double in the fourth to give the White Sox an early 2-0 lead. After the Red Sox grabbed a run off Gio Gonzalez, the White Sox responded with a two-run homer from Yoan Moncada, his fifth in eight games this season.

In the eighth, with the South Siders up 6-1, Yasmani Grandal followed the long ball barrage with a solo homer off Heath Hembree. Grandal matched his new teammate Moncada with five home runs in the first eight games.

For the second straight game, Rick Renteria went to the Sox 'pen and they in return failed to maintain a big lead. Jimmy Cordero and Jace Fry gave up five runs in the eighth to shrink the Chicago lead to 7-6 lead before Steve Cishek stopped the bleeding. In the ninth, Sox closer Aaron Bummer had a high stress outing with two aboard with only one out before striking out Rafael Devers and forcing Kevin Pillar to ground out to Tim Anderson. He picked up his American League-leading fourth save of the season as the White Sox held on to beat the Red Sox, 7-6.

Result: White Sox def. Red Sox 7-6

Record: 5-3, second in AL Central (0.5 GB of Indians)

W: Gio Gonzalez (1-0)

L: Brian Johnson (0-2)

SV: Aaron Bummer (4)

White Sox lineup

Tim Anderson: 2-5, 2 2B (.353 BA)

Yoan Moncada: 1-4, HR, 2 RBI (.371 BA)

Jose Abreu: 2-4, HR, RBI (.250 BA)

Edwin Encarnacion: 0-3, BB (.214 BA)

Yasmani Grandal: 2-4, HR, RBI (.344 BA)

Eloy Jimenez: 1-4, RBI (.276 BA)

Luis Robert: 1-3, RBI, SB (.286 BA)

Nomar Mazara: 0-2, RBI (.207 BA)

Leury Garcia: 1-4 (.250 BA)

Scoring summary

Top 1st:

Jose Abreu homered to left field. 1-0 CHW.

Top 4th:

Eloy Jimenez doubled to right. Edwin Encarnacion scored. 2-0 CHW.

Luis Robert sacrifice fly. Yasmani Grandal scored. 3-0 CHW.

Nomar Mazar sacrifice fly. Eloy Jimenez scored. 4-0 CHW.

Bottom 4th:

Kevin Pillar doubled to right. Xander Bogaerts scored. 4-1 CHW.

Top 5th:

Yoan Moncada homered to left. Tim Anderson scored. 6-1 CHW.

Top 8th:

Yasmani Grandal homered to center. 7-1 CHW.

Bottom 8th:

Rafael Devers singled to right. J.D. Martinez scored. 7-2 CHW.

Kevin Pillar singled to center. Xander Bogaerts scored. 7-3 CHW

Michael Chavis singled to right. Rafael Devers scored. Kevin Pillar scored. 7-5 CHW.

Mitch Moreland singled to left. Christian Vazquez scored. 7-6 CHW

Notable performance: Gio Gonzalez was sharp in his first White Sox start taking a no-hitter into the fourth inning. Gonzalez gave up three hits while holding the Boston bats to only one run in six innings of work. Between mixing speeds and inducing groundballs, Gonzalez showed he can be a viable rotation piece for the South Siders.

Next Game: Sunday, April 5 - Gm. 9: White Sox at Red Sox (Reynaldo Lopez vs. Ryan Weber)