When it comes to free-agent signings, White Sox fans typically cringe. There has been a fair share of players that get signed, fans get excited, the player regresses, and fans feel like they’ve been burned by the front office. It’s a vicious cycle. Some players do live up to the hype, however. As far as Major League free regents are concerned, Yasmani Grandal is quite possibly the best free-agent signing in (at very least) the last 10 years for the White Sox.
Grandal was signed by the White Sox on November 21, 2019, with a four-year, $73 million contract. I was standing in my kitchen preparing a dessert for Thanksgiving when the news broke. As someone that knows the sting of free agents that just don’t work out — Wellington Castillo immediately comes to mind — I paused for a moment before alerting my spouse of the signing. “Grandal to the White Sox” was all I wrote in the text. “You’re lying” was his response. I felt like maybe we could be excited about this signing for once.
Sharing duties with incumbent catcher James McCann, Grandal started in 46 games for the shortened 2020 season. His WAR in 2020 was only 0.9. His WAR for 2021 sits at 3.6. But his story doesn’t end there. Grandal has turned into an absolute force to be reckoned with each time he’s at-bat.
Grandal hits for power. But Grandal also likes to walk. As a catcher, he has a fantastic eye for figuring out what is coming to him and his best probability for getting on base via hit, home run, or walk. His 2021 walk rate is one of the best in the league at 82 (I should add that as I’m writing this article, he walked). That is the second-highest in his career thus far, the highest being 109 in 2019 while he was on the Brewers.
Recently, Grandal’s number of hits surpassed his RBI number of 61. Grandal is now at 63 hits this season. He is slashing .241/.420/.521 and has an OPS of 1.032 for September. Grandal also has a season-high wRC+ of 159 in 351 plate appearances. That is currently the highest of anyone on the White Sox. To say he came back from his injury stronger might just be an understatement. Grandal seemed to be the missing piece the White Sox needed and will certainly be a player to watch this postseason.
After the White Sox clinched the American League Central days ago in Cleveland — the first time since 2008 — White Sox fans seemed to be reminded of all they’ve endured in the last 13 years. The painful rebuilds and being so close to greatness only to be a first-round exit in 2020. Then you consider some of the free-agent signings that were once thought to be promising only to implode the second they put on a White Sox uniform.
Jeff Keppinger was great in 2012 with the Rays. In 2013 he was signed for three years for $12 million, but Keppinger performed so terribly in the first year that they didn’t bother trying to get any value out of the second and third years.
Jose Abreu was signed in 2014 after playing in the Cuban National Series for Cienfuegos before his defection in August 2013. That signing clearly exceeded expectations, and is for another day as this is only Major League signings at the moment — and I did a deep dive on the incredible Cuban pipeline already. But in the same year came Ronald Belisario from the Dodgers. During his 2013 season in Los Angeles, Belisario’s ERA was 3.97. For his time with the White Sox, 5.56.
It’s not a proper free agency article if we don’t discuss 2015 and Adam LaRoche. His zany antics, clubhouse division that prompted his decision to retire, and severe decline from the previous year is certainly a sore spot for the White Sox. I could go on with more examples, but this is painful enough.
I think it’s fair to say that Yasmani Grandal will go down as one of the greatest Major League free-agency signings the White Sox have had, at least in the last decade and perhaps beyond. He has been a joy to watch and will certainly make the postseason exciting.
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