There are splashy hires, and then there are those that happen without causing a discernible ripple. It doesn’t make them bad. It doesn’t make them good. It definitely doesn’t stop some in the peanut gallery from rendering instant, if clueless, verdicts.
“Who?” is another, undoubtedly more honest reaction others are having.
Grifol’s is a name few of us really know because, up until now, there has been no reason for us to know it. For the last three seasons, he was bench coach for the losing Royals, who finished in fourth place twice and, in 2022, at the bottom of the Sox’ subpar division. Before that, he served the Royals in various capacities — catching is his specialty — and was on the staff of a World Series-winning squad in 2015.
Grifol, 52, never played in the major leagues, not that it’s a terrible thing. Rob Thomson, managing the Phillies in the World Series right now, never did, either, nor did Brian Snitker, Joe Maddon, Earl Weaver and many others. Salvador Perez, the Royals’ terrific catcher, has spoken highly of Grifol’s defensive tutelage, hopefully a more relevant detail considering the Sox still have Yasmani Grandal making All-Star money while foundering behind the plate.
However it shakes out, this one will be worn — flatteringly or not — by Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who knows a thing or two about losing himself. Seven of the last 10 Sox teams have been losers. The arrow was up in 2020 and 2021 before a deeply unsatisfying .500 campaign in 2022 that felt like the worst one of them all.
If we’re giving Hahn a pass for Tony La Russa — Jerry Reinsdorf’s pal — then it’s only fair to view Grifol as the litmus test for Hahn, the driver of this move. Hahn went outside the Sox family for Grifol, on its own a welcome, necessary move to many. But Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series winner with the Giants, would’ve been a heck of a splash; instead, the Rangers got him. Ozzie Guillen, of course, would’ve had the baseball world buzzing like crazy. Astros coach Joe Espada, Braves coach Ron Washington or even longtime Guardians coach Sandy Alomar Jr. would’ve played bigger from the jump, if it means anything.
At the end of a demoralizing season, Hahn said he’d be seeking a manager with “recent experience in the dugout with an organization that has contended for championships.” The last five Royals teams were 282-426 (.398), for those of you scoring at home.
Hahn also wanted, “ideally, someone who is an excellent communicator, who understands the way the game has grown and evolved in the last decade or so, but at the same time respects old-school sensibilities.” Perhaps this is Grifol’s wheelhouse, though good luck finding any new manager who isn’t initially described in these very same, somewhat vague terms.
After many years with Grifol in the fold, the Royals hired a different bench coach, the Rays’ Matt Quatraro, as manager. It’s not damning to Grifol, but it’s an interesting note to be remembered.
With team leader Jose Abreu potentially gone, it could be especially important for Grifol to have a special knack for connecting with players. Will Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and other members of the core — still expected to contend for postseason berths — thrive on his watch? Will the Sox play harder, smarter and more alertly for Grifol than they often seemed to for La Russa? Will the construction of the roster begin to make sense again? What will Hahn get done in the trade market this offseason? The last question might have more to do with Grifol’s success or failure than whatever he brings as puller of the strings.
Once upon a time, the Cubs replaced rock-star Maddon with David Ross, who was actually green and not a “grandpa.” The Blackhawks replaced coaching giant Joel Quenneville with no-name Jeremy Colliton. The Bulls replaced irreplaceable Phil Jackson with Tim Floyd, a college coach. The Bears replaced franchise icon Mike Ditka with Dave Wannstedt, who’d never led his own team.
What does that history have to do with Grifol, who, at last check, lacked La Russa’s Hall of Fame credentials? Nothing, really. Splashes don’t endure. We’ll see if Grifol does.