The White Sox announced Thursday that they agreed with free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal on a four-year contract worth $73 million.
Grandal was an easily recommendable hire by virtue of being almost certainly the best catcher available in free agency, with an argument for either Jason Castro or Travis d’Arnaud a rather tough one to make in this writer’s opinion. On our list of the Top 50 Free Agents for 2020, Grandal was ranked sixth overall. As J.D. Martinez decided not to opt-out from his deal with the Red Sox, Grandal is the first top 10 free agent to sign this winter.
I remain ambivalent about the White Sox as contenders in 2020 based on the state of the pitchers currently on their roster, but Grandal is both an immediate and long-term upgrade behind the plate. James McCann was a significant contributor in 2019, hitting .273/.328/.460 for 2.3 WAR, but he’s hardly established that level of play as his baseline expectation.
And while I’m skeptical that there has been any actual collusion in free agency the last two winters, if I were searching for a contract that smacked of that kind of behavior, it would be hard to not pick Grandal’s deal with the Brewers. Coming off a .241/.349/.466, 4.7 WAR season in 2018, his fourth consecutive four-win season, it seems ludicrous that he only landed a one-year, $16 million contract with a mutual option and a buyout. There were reports that Grandal turned down multi-year contracts, but those inevitably would have been for even less money per year.
Grandal’s not young (he turned 31 a couple of weeks ago), but he also doesn’t have an obscene number of innings behind the plate. Even adding in his minor league record, Grandal knee-odometer has fewer than 900 professional catching starts on them. (Contrast that with players like Buster Posey at nearly 1,100 at the same age and Yadier Molina around 1,300.)
Don’t fall into the trap described in Nichols’ Law of Catcher Defense. Grandal doesn’t have a rocket arm, but he’s a capable defensive catcher, and while we’re still getting our heads around the predictive value of framing statistics, Grandal’s numbers have been consistently excellent across three organizations. And if something happens to move him from behind the plate in the third or fourth years of the contract, he’s a good enough hitter that he’ll have value elsewhere.
I wouldn’t worry about the fourth year of the contract. Why? Because I’d sign Grandal to a three-year, $73 million contract. There are only a few players with an All-Star baseline available to sign every year.
This is exactly the type of move the White Sox should be making. They’re not close enough that they have to furiously attempt to fill every last hole with expensive veteran role players, but teams in their position should sign players they aren’t likely to create themselves. Even the hardest-core Zack Collins fan would be hard-pressed to suggest that there’s a high probability of him sticking at catcher and being as valuable overall as Grandal’s projections.
We’ll have more on analysis on Grandal’s deal a little later, but for now I’ll close by saying that while the White Sox have more work to do, this is an excellent start to the offseason.
Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.