It might not be possible to measure the effect Yasmani Grandal has already had on the 2020 White Sox.
While the team’s first big splash signing of the winter has been met with near universal acclaim — how could you not love a guy with Grandal’s track record of offensive production and winning experience? — plenty wondered why it happened in the first place. After all, the White Sox already boasted an All-Star catcher in James McCann.
Sure, two All-Star backstops are better than one. But with so much still on Rick Hahn’s offseason to-do list when the move was made, why spend big bucks — the richest contract in team history — on a position you already had covered?
Well, the 2020 campaign hasn’t even started yet, and already Grandal’s worth is evident.
As much love as McCann got for his skills as a game-planner during his All-Star season in 2019, the rave reviews for Grandal take things to a whole different level.
“I got to talk with Yaz for a while, I played catch with him today down the road. He’s already got a plan for me, how he wants to set up, attack guys, showing me the program he uses. It’s awesome,” new White Sox reliever Steve Cishek said before SoxFest kicked off Friday. “He’s ready to go, and it’s going to be a lot of fun working with him.
“Just talking with him today, it’s obvious that he knows what he’s doing and what he’s talking about. And then you see why he’s one of the best catchers in the game. And then how mentally prepared he is, we’re not even into February yet, and he knows what he wants to do with each and every one of us. That’s incredible to me. He’s just planning ahead.
“I introduced myself. He wanted to play catch, just to see what my stuff does first hand. … First conversation after playing catch, he’s like, ‘Did you see me messing around? I was standing over here just to see if you would start your fastball over here. This is how I’m planning on setting up with you. I watched how Willson (Contreras) set up with you last year. I like how he did it, but I want to try this way, too.’
“Are you kidding me? When can we start? Let’s go.”
It’s clear from talking to his new teammates — some, like Cishek, who haven’t even been able to spend much time with him — that Grandal is prepared to the point where he’s ready for the season to start yesterday.
Rick Hahn revealed when the White Sox signed Grandal way back in November, that the newest backstop on the South Side is the kind of student who asks for homework — then devours it in no time.
“We met with him in Phoenix (the) Tuesday afternoon during the GM meetings, but I think it was by Thursday, he had reached back out and requested video of each of our starters and wanted to spend some time getting to know each of them,” Hahn explained the day the White Sox announced Grandal’s four-year contract. “He had some familiarity from afar but wanted to spend some up close time learning their strengths and weaknesses and how to get them better.
“He and I, since things became official late last night, we’ve been texting back and forth about various guys both on our roster and available throughout the league. He really has a deep, deep knowledge of how to maximize a pitcher’s ability. He’s tireless worker.”
Though the White Sox have yet to converge on Camelback Ranch for spring training, that unmatched work ethic has already become apparent to Grandal’s new teammates. These pitchers haven’t had much opportunity to work with Grandal yet — as Cishek mentioned, he talked with Grandal for the first time Friday before heading to SoxFest — but they’ve already been blown away by the kind of preparation and the kind of work Grandal has done.
It’s the kind of effect a veteran with winning experience can have on a young group.
“I haven't personally thrown to him, but having conversations with him about pitching and pitch mechanics, he's very intellectual,” Michael Kopech said earlier this week. “He himself is very serious about his training and his body and his regimen. It's refreshing to see somebody take that much pride in what their doing.
“Not that we don't have that already, we've always had that. But to have that veteran role step in and show you that you can do this and you can do this for a long time, it means the world to us, because that's what we're all wanting to get to.”
One of the White Sox other offseason splashes, Dallas Keuchel, has on multiple occasions talked about Grandal as an attractive selling point that helped bring him to the South Side. Friday night, he described Grandal signing with the White Sox as “mind-blowing.”
Grandal has excited pitchers who were already a part of the organization, too.
“When he signed, the first thing I did was I went to YouTube and I looked him up,” Dylan Cease said Friday. “First, I started with his framing highlights, because there’s a YouTube (video) of that. And then I went to his hitting. I was like, ‘All right. This is a nice addition.’”
That would seem to be an understatement.
Obviously, Grandal will be expected to add something special to the White Sox lineup, and his career .348 on-base percentage in eight major league seasons — not to mention a career-best 28 home runs in 2019 — ought to provide plenty offensively.
But Grandal is here to help the Ceases of the world, too. While Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez bring some veteran reliability to the South Side starting staff, the White Sox need to see some improvement from both Cease and Reynaldo Lopez from the not-so-stellar numbers they put up last season, if they’re truly going to contend for a spot in the postseason.
Grandal is making that his mission, to help the younger pitchers blossom into the stars their once lofty prospect rankings said they could be.
“This not being the first time (I’ve been through this kind of thing), I understand it’s going to be a process, and it’s going to take some time,” Grandal said Friday. “We’re not going to try and hurry the process up, we’re just going to let it be. We know what we have, and we’re just going to take it one day at a time.
“Once I have at least 80 games behind the plate, we’ll look at the bigger picture and start making the bigger strides and start doing the things that we really have to do. We’ve got to lay some sort of base in order to start building. I feel like we’ve moved in the right direction so far this offseason. It comes down to me and the whole catching group getting together with the pitchers.”
That kind of work is something Grandal has already shown he’s willing and excited to do. He’s impressed the pitchers he’ll be catching in their limited interactions, and while he describes a potentially time-consuming process in getting everyone to where they need to be, he’s still thrilled to be working with this group of arms. He continues to explain that it’s the No. 1 thing that drew him to the South Side.
Because as a guy who’s played in each of the last four postseasons knows, it’s all about the pitching.
“As we saw in the past World Series, the Nationals kind of did exactly what needed to be done. They relied on their pitching staff,” he said, “and they got big hits when they needed it. At any point, once you get to the playoffs, if you have the right amount of pitchers, you can have a big win.
“Let’s just get there first.”