Yasmani Grandal signals a welcome change for White Sox

Gang’s all here: Well, with the way the White Sox are spending, maybe not all … (@WhiteSox)

Yasmani Grandal was the perfect target for the Chicago White Sox, and the organization converted on that target prior to Thanksgiving.

The four-year, $73 million commitment made to the Cuban-born star is the largest outlay in franchise history, but still comes in as a bargain on the surface. High tides raise all boats, and as far as the White Sox are concerned, the organization possesses more cache with the new backstop aboard.

The front office can now continue subsequent free agent discussions with the best catcher in the American League in tow. The 31-year-old was first among big league catchers in OBP (.381), third in wRC+ (121), and second in fWAR (5.2) in 2019. Grandal hit .246/.380/.468 with the Brewers last year, in a career-high 153 games. He posted a .361 wOBA with a stellar .222 ISO as well. Yasmani also hit 28 homers and walked at a 17% clip, totaling 109 on the season.

The decision-makers in the White Sox front office have emphasized the need for left-handed bats this offseason, and the addition of the best free agent fit on the market dramatically advances that cause. The switch-hitter posted a 114 wRC+ and a .350 wOBA vs righties last season. He’s really good from the left side, and provides thump (17 homers in 2019) vs. right-handed pitching. He was even better against lefties, though. While hitting just 11 of his 28 home runs against southpaws, Grandal torched them overall, to the tune of a 138 wRC+ and .386 wOBA.

White Sox hitters struggled to reach base at an adequate clip under Todd Steverson, and more importantly over the course of their rebuild. Grandal is a multiplier in a sense, though, providing a different way to approach plate appearances.

“Last year, I made some strides into getting guys to understand the value to actually getting on base,” Grandal told the media yesterday. “Obviously, the more guys we get on base, the more opportunities we have to score. At the end of the day, if you score, you’re going to win.”

Another perceived change for the White Sox is the value of stolen strikes via pitch framing. Grandal is one of the best in the sport and will eventually be a candidate for the Hall of Frame. He saved 17 framing runs last year, the best mark in baseball. It will be a welcomed change for a White Sox organization that has been bottom-five in pitch framing over the past two seasons.

GM Rick Hahn spoke effusively yesterday about Grandal’s value to the franchise, and even tackled the pitch framing questions on a media conference call: “Obviously, Yasmani is very strong in the framing area, and that’s the huge positive for our pitchers and it’s a good portion of the benefit that he brings. We knew where we ranked last year both externally and internally in terms of our framing metrics. It was an area where we could get better. Again, this call could go on for another 20, 30 minutes in terms of talking about all the positive things that Yasmani brings to the table. Framing is certainly one of them. But it doesn’t stop there.”

Hahn has stated emphatically that the “money will be spent,” and his front office took the first step toward backing that up on Thursday. The White Sox landed a big pretty fish for their roster ,and it’s ideally foreshadowing things to come.

“This is an elite add at a premium position today. And now it’s on to the next one,” Hahn said. That next one could be swayed by the possibility of playing with Grandal instead of taking the leap to sign on with the young talent already in the organization and banking on the already assembled talent core.

While some will remain rightfully skeptical of the club’s business practices, actually getting Grandal to sign on the dotted line shows that the White Sox are serious about winning and winning soon.

“Seeing the direction that the program is going in and talking to them a little bit about what their future plans are and what their goals were, it kind of got to me a little bit,” Grandal said yesterday on his conference call. “Their pitching staff excites me a lot, just because there are a lot of good, young arms that can be great. 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.”

It only takes one player to agree to terms and change the fortunes of a moribund squad. Grandal listened to the White Sox’s pitch and then took their money. He provides things they lack: power, on-base ability and left-handedness, in addition to the potential boon the pitching staff will incur. His friendship with Zack Collins and Cuban heritage are both interesting subplots to the signing as well. But most important is what it signals to the rest of the baseball world.

Snickering and snide comments about $73 million being the biggest deal in franchise history glosses over the fact that however small of a hurdle it is, the hurdle was in fact cleared. In an expectantly busy offseason for the club, that number is one that could be shattered again in short order.

As the new backstop did the typical “welcome to town” media rounds on Thursday, radio host Danny Parkins of The Score asked Grandal why he chose the White Sox. The response was a short and sweet: “Why not?”

In the end, money talks, and Grandal found $73 million reasons to relocate to Chicago. While not expected to be the big-market behemoths on par with the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and Red Sox, the Pale Hose have more financial might than the flyover cities who inhabit the American League Central.

There’s nothing stopping the Chicago White Sox from becoming the goliath in a division full of financial Davids. This is what a seat at the table truly looks like. The organization identified a true need and went out and landed their top target. For their sake, it’s a playbook that should continue into the future.

Yasmani Grandal makes a salient point. Why not the White Sox?

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José Abreu signs three-year, $50M contract

Locked in: Power-hitting first baseman José Abreu signed a contract that will keep him on the South Side through 2022. (Clinton Cole/South Side Hit Pen)

After making a big splash in free agency yesterday, the White Sox remained active, as they signed José Abreu to a three-year, $50 million contract. This contract will keep Abreu under team control through the end of 2022. Abreu will receive a signing bonus of $5 million, $11 million in 2020, $16 million in 2021, and $18 million in 2022 with $4 million deferred.

Abreu, who will turn 33 in January, is coming off a season in which he slashed .284/.330/.503 with a 117 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR, and 2.4 bWAR. Per Baseball Savant, Abreu was a bit unlucky last year. Abreu posted a wOBA of .344, but the quality of his contact shows that his wOBA should have been .359.

Though situational stats like hitting with runners in scoring position are not predictive, Abreu’s value to the White Sox last year was greater than his WAR may indicate. Abreu slashed .337/.368/.590 with a 141 wRC+ with runners in scoring position, and as a result, he gave the White Sox some much-needed hits in high-leverage situations. With this in mind, it is easy to see how Abreu led the American League in runs batted in (123).

Abreu has played six years in the majors and has yet to play for an organization other than the White Sox. In those six years, Abreu has been worth 17.9 fWAR, or 21.2 bWAR. If Abreu averages 2.0 WAR in each of the three years of his contract, Abreu would only be slightly behind Paul Konerko (24.0 fWAR/28.9 bWAR as a member of the White Sox) in terms of WAR.

Some have criticized this move as a classic Jerry Reinsdorf “loyalty deal.” While it is possible that Abreu will disappoint as he inches past his prime, it appears unlikely that this contract fits the “loyalty deal” description. Free agents are considered worth their price if they accumulate 1.0 WAR for every $8 million, so Abreu only needs about 2.0 WAR per season to reach that target.

Unlike the Grandal signing, which nearly every White Sox fan loves (and rightfully so), reviews on this contract are mixed. On paper, though, this is not an egregious overpay by any stretch of the imagination, and it is nice to have Abreu’s power-hitting and leadership back on the South Side.

White Sox All-Decade Team: Infielders

Something we can all agree on: José Abreu headlines the White Sox All-Decade Team is (@whitesox)

The votes are in! Some were right and some were wrong, but we can all agree that it was not the best decade for the White Sox — and the dreary player selections reflect that.Today, we are only looking at the infield. This is not necessarily the strongest group of players, but at least this where some of the easier top player guesses are. Without further ado, let’s start at catcher.

Catcher — Tyler Flowers

With the tallied votes, 64% of you chose White Sox great A.J. Pierzynski, 32% chose Tyler Flowers, 4% chose Omar Narváez. In reality, A.J. definitely has the name recognition and this probably clouded some guesses, but Tyler Flowers had the best fWAR in the 2010s. Now, let’s be honest here, Flowers’ value did not come with the bat, it was all on the defensive side. He had a total of 8.5 fWAR over his tenure from 2010-15. A.J. was the better hitter, 97 wRC+ compared to Flowers’ 84 WRC+, but games played and the lack of defensive ability hurt Pieryznski’s chances at top backstop of the decade. If this were a singular best catching season of the decade, A.J. would win. In 2012, he had the best fWAR for a Sox catcher since 2010, at 3.3. That was his power-resurgence year, when he hit 27 homers for a .223 ISO. That was his last season with the White Sox, as afterward he signed a one-year, $7.5 million contract with the Rangers and eventually retired after the 2016 season. Meanwhile, the best White Sox catcher of the decade, Flowers, is still playing baseball with the Atlanta Braves and actually has been better since his Chicago departure. As a current White Sox fun update, James McCann’s 2019 season qualifies as the fourth-best fWAR year for a Sox catcher in the 2010s.

First Baseman — José Abreu

This time, you all got it right, José Abreu won the vote in convincing fashion (83% of the vote), and the fWAR was not close. The decade started out with Sox great Paul Konerko (who is on the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot) ending his career as Abreu’s began. Over the course of the decade, Abreu had a 17.3 fWAR while Paulie ended with a 5.9. Abreu’s first season of his career was also the best season a first baseman had for the Sox in the 2010s, which resulted in a controversial Rookie of the Year award and an now-overlooked fourth-place finish in MVP voting. Over the course of the decade, Abreu led the the league in OPS+ and slugging percentage in 2014, total bases in 2017, and RBIs in 2019. In every season where Abreu played 140 games or more, he had at least 100 RBIs. He hit over .300 twice and had 30 or more homers thrice, while his career slash line is a fantastic .293/.349/.512 for a 132 wRC+. Since entering the league in 2014, Abreu has the seventh-best fWAR among qualified first baseman and the ninth-best wRC+. If you’re more into the baseball card stats, well, Abreu is fourth in homers and second in RBIs since his rookie season. White Sox history with first baseman generally has been good, and Abreu continued that tradition. They have gone from Frank Thomas to Konerko and then to Abreu, and though Abreu is at least going to stay on the White Sox for the 2020 season, some young guys will hopefully take over and excel soon.

Second Baseman — Gordon Beckham

Yes, you read that correctly: Gordon Beckham had the best fWAR among second basemen in the 2010s for the White Sox. Unsurprisingly, most people were wrong in the voting, as Gordo finishes last. First, let me explain the fWAR tabulation: I took out years where a player did not field the position the majority of the season. So, 2019 Yoán Moncada, 2018 Yolmer Sánchez, and Beckham’s 2015 season did not count, as they all played the majority of the time at third those years. It was a close race, though. Gordo finished with 3.3 fWAR, Moncada 3.2, and Yolmer with 2.8 and yes, those are multiple season’s worth of fWAR, not just a single season. To say second base play for the Sox was atrocious over the past 10 years might be an understatement. The Sox only had two seasons where a second baseman had at least 2.0 fWAR, and none of those reached above 2.2 in a season. In 2017, Sánchez had the best fWAR of the decade, but just to understand how truly awful it has been at second this decade let’s take a look at the rest of the single season Top 5s: Tyler Saladino had the third-best fWAR in a single season at second, while Moncada in his first 54 games in 2017 was fourth, and to round out the top five is Brett Lawrie. BRETT LAWRIE. I told you it was not pretty.

Third Baseman — Yoán Moncada

Third base was just about to be as bad as second, but thanks to a position switch between Yolmer and Moncada, it does look a little better. Yes, one season of fWAR did propel Moncada to the top spot, but at least the winner isn’t Todd Frazier, who finished second. The voters were correct on this one, as Moncada ran away with it after his breakout superstar season in 2019; yes, that season did deserve a Top 10 MVP vote, and he should have received more. Obviously, the season Moncada had was the best of the decade for White Sox third baseman, but there’s some other historical significance. Moncada in 2019 had the fifth-best 3B season in White Sox history. It was also the best offensive season among primary third baseman in terms of wRC+ in White Sox history. In the 2010s, Moncada’s 2019 season ranks 35th in fWAR and 21st in wRC+ among all MLB third baseman. The past was not great for the Sox at third, but the future does sure seem to be bright.

Shortstop — Alexei Ramírez

Shortstop was one of the closer votes, probably because of some recency bias as Tim Anderson won the batting title this past season. However, Alexei Ramírez had a far better decade when looking at fWAR. Maybe some people thought that Ramírez’s value came before the decade, but the two best seasons of his career and among White Sox shortstops in the 2010s was his 2010 and 2011 seasons. From 2010-14, the height of Alexei’s career, he was rated the fourth-best shortstop in MLB by fWAR, only behind Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, and Hanley Ramírez. From 2010-12, which was the height of Alexei’s defensive prowess, he was the second-best defensive shortstop in baseball using DRS and UZR. Ramírez was never a heavy hitter over his career, which is another reason why some might not remember how good a shortstop he was, but we seem to have the opposite now in Anderson. Defense is clearly the skill that Anderson lacks, but his bat still led to him having an fWAR of better than 3.0 in the 2019 season. With Anderson and Moncada, it seems like the future is bright heading into the 2020s for the left side of the infield.

Next up … The outfield and DH!