Pedro Grifol is reportedly the next manager of your Chicago White Sox.
A lot of reaction on Twitter can be boiled down to: “Who?”
It’s not Grifol’s fault, of course, that he had less hype than guys from higher profile organizations. He’s one of those baseball-lifer types who has been working mostly behind the scenes as a coach with the division-rival Royals for the last decade. He was part of the staff that helped the Royals to back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015, the latter of which they won.
He spent the last three years as Mike Matheny’s bench coach, though the post-2015 life of the Royals has been spent mostly as an AL Central bottom-feeder, with just one finish that wasn’t sub-.500 (it was exactly .500), a pair of 100-loss campaigns and another 97 defeats in 2022.
Don’t worry, we’re going to find out a whole lot more about Grifol. Until we do, it’s not the easiest thing to do to evaluate a hire in the hours since it was reported. But rapid reactions and first impressions are obviously a thing, so here we go.
The White Sox accomplished the task many fans wanted them to, which is looking outside the organization. Rick Hahn said in his end-of-season press conference that “White Sox DNA” was not a requirement for the managerial job, something that seemingly had been in the last few searches, which ended in Ozzie Guillen, Robin Ventura, Rick Renteria and Tony La Russa taking over as skipper. A desire for new ideas and fresh perspectives was not met when the job shockingly went to La Russa two years ago. It has been met now.
Grifol has wanted to be a major league manager for a long time, and he’s likely been thinking about what he would bring to the gig for a long time, too. Those ideas coupled with the import of how things were done in Kansas City bring an undeniable newness to the South Side. And let’s not forget that the Royals have had the White Sox’ number plenty over the last decade, meaning Grifol can shine a light on some of the team’s exploitable issues from an outsider’s standpoint.
But will that newness bring winning? Certainly just removing La Russa and installing a new manager wasn’t going to fix everything that plagued the White Sox in 2022 by itself, and heaping those sort of expectations on Grifol, to single-handedly turn things around, would be ridiculous.
The White Sox, though, seemed to prioritize winning experience when Hahn listed the criteria for the job at the beginning of October. A key decision-maker for a championship contender Grifol was not. His bench-coach duties brought him as close to a managerial job as you can get without being one, and there’s little doubt he was ready for a promotion, considering his candidacy for managerial vacancies in the past. But as described, the White Sox picked from a Royals team that has not seen the recent annual contention of, say, the Astros and Rays and Yankees, three teams whose bench coaches the White Sox reportedly interviewed, as well.
That’s not to say Grifol hasn’t been part of winning, and the two consecutive AL pennants are a nice resume-booster. With a ring as a part of that championship-winning staff in 2015, Grifol has been a part of a World Series champion relatively recently. That’s 10 years more recently than Guillen, a popular candidate among fans; one year more recently than Bruce Bochy, just lured out of retirement to manage the Rangers; and only one year less recently than Joe Maddon, still trumpeted for his work leading the Cubs to a curse-breaking title six years ago.
But regardless of your level of ire during La Russa’s last year as the South Side skipper, the major onus for turning things around is on White Sox players, specifically a young core that failed, for a variety of reasons, to live up to expectations in 2022. Grifol won’t have much to do with those players avoiding injuries, a key moving forward, and though he’s been a hitting coach of sorts at the big league level, he’ll have other responsibilities aside from making sure the White Sox rediscover their power stroke in 2023.
One thing Grifol can do, though, is foster a positive clubhouse environment. That’s not to say La Russa failed at that aspect of the job, as he routinely received high praise from his players, who bought into the “family” atmosphere he pitched from Day 1. But Grifol can continue that and perhaps excel in areas La Russa couldn’t. A Cuban-American, Grifol perhaps has a greater understanding of the lives of Latino players that goes beyond merely speaking Spanish, which La Russa does and did in the White Sox’ clubhouse.
As the reports of Grifol’s hire hit social media, he was described as a “good communicator.” But being a “good communicator” goes beyond talking. It’s about relating to players from different backgrounds and establishing relationships. If that’s the “good communicator” Pedro Grifol is, that’s good for the White Sox.
Elvis Andrus’ comments from season’s end seem to play right into this idea:
“If they bring in somebody new, they have to be a good communicator. For me, that’s always the key, a manager you can rely on, a manager that can communicate with you and just keep it real. This game is so complex and so hard. The last thing you want is a manager talking to you in two different ways. Especially for this clubhouse, a very mixed clubhouse. There’s a lot of Latin guys with a lot of talent. It’s a whole mix. You need to have somebody who can relate to both sides.”
For all the fan angst over the La Russa hire, there was one thing that couldn’t be denied about the Hall of Famer: He had plenty of championship experience and knew what it took to get a team to the World Series. After watching two years’ worth of his in-game decision making, it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if he had the ability to do that in the modern game.
But there’s far less to go on when it comes to Grifol, who’s getting his first crack at a major league managing job. Even with that being the case, though, there’s still plenty at stake for the White Sox, who are undoubtedly in the win-now phase of their rebuilding project.
Can Grifol deliver? Good fit, great fit or perfect fit, winning will end up being the only thing he’s judged on.