Pedro Grifol, a baseball man through and through and for three seasons bench coach for former KC Royals manager Mike Matheny, never hid his desire to land a big league managing gig of his own. But despite interviewing with several clubs over the past few years, including the Royals after Ned Yost retired following the 2019 season and the club fired Mike Matheny last October, he hadn't landed one.
Until November, that is. That's when the White Sox named Grifol their next skipper, a job made vacant when health issues caused Hall of Famer and two-time Sox manager Tony La Russe to retire again. Grifol, who coached 10 seasons with Kansas City, is working on what Cot's Contracts identifies as a three-year deal.
After winning the American League Central in 2021, Chicago went a disappointing 81-81 and missed the playoffs last season amid the criticism of his managing that unfortunately marked La Russa's two years back with the club. Justifiably or not, many blamed him for Chicago's arguable 2022 underperformance.
So, Grifol's work is cut out for him. But some players he knows well from his Kansas City days are with him, including the five ex-Royals who are the focus of this story. How are they doing through Thursday for their rookie manager?
A former KC Royals utility infielder is a bright spot for Grifol this spring
Kansas City signed Hanser Alberto to a one-year free agent contract shortly before spring training opened two seasons ago and did everything the club could ask from the part-time player: he proved valuable in a utility role, started 56 of his 103 games, and hit a more-than-serviceable .270. The Royals released him after the season, but he moved on to greener pastures with the Dodgers last year.
He now plays for Grifol after the Sox signed him to a free agent deal in January. And although it's early in the Cactus League season, he's doing quite well: through Thursday, he's 6-for-8 with three doubles and a triple in three games. His .750/.778/1.375 line reflects a small sample, but it's nice for him to have.
Alberto has a good chance to land a utility job with his new club.
Four other ex-KC Royals haven't yet played much for Grifol
Most notable among the White Sox who worked with Grifol in Kansas City is All-Star outfielder Andrew Benintendi who, unlike Alberto, isn't quite up to speed yet. He's played in only two of Chicago's six games (they're 3-3, by the way) and is 0-for-2 with a walk.
Benintendi's first, and only full, Royal season brought him a Gold Glove in 2021, and he was hitting .320 in 2022 when the club traded him to the Yankees in one of their series of midsummer moves. An injury sidelined him in September and he missed New York's run to the AL Championship Series.
Veteran outfielder Billy Hamilton, who played 93 times for the Royals in 2019 before they waived him that August, returns to Chicago for his second stint with the White Sox, for whom he played in 2020 and 2021. He's 1-for-4 with a double in three games.
A wealth of Royals catchers, including the eight they currently have in spring camp, made backup backstop Sebastian Rivero expendable, and the Sox signed him in December. Rivero, who hit .167 over parts of the 2021 and 2022 seasons with the Royals, has a hit in two at-bats this spring.
And then there's reliever Jake Diekman, who went 0-6 for the Royals in 2019 before they dealt him to Oakland in July for Dairon Blanco and Ismael Aquino. Chicago picked him up from Boston in a trade deadline deal last season; after going 5-1 for the Red Sox, the 11-year veteran lost all three of his post-trade Chicago decisions.
How many of those former Royals will appear on Grifol's Opening Day roster remains to be seen. The Sox open the season March 30 at Houston, but won't face the Royals until May 8 when the clubs begin a four-game series in Kansas City.