Free agent Yasmani Grandal reached a one-year agreement with the Brewers, worth $18.25 million. Grandal’s contract — while surprising — is not proof that baseball is broken. Not in an offseason where Lance Lynn got $30 million. Not in an offseason where Zach Britton got $39 million. Not in an offseason where Andrew McCutchen got $50 million. Nathan Eovaldi got $68 million. Patrick Corbin got $140 million. And even in Grandal’s specific case, it’s been reported he turned down an offer of $60 million or so from the Mets. Now, there’s reason to believe that didn’t happen exactly as so. It feels more than a little far-fetched. But the conversations, at least, were productive, before the Mets opted for Wilson Ramos instead. Grandal had a chance to do better than this.
But still, Yasmani Grandal signed a one-year contract barely worth more than the qualifying offer he declined. He signed a one-year contract with a competitive team, but a competitive team that happens to play in baseball’s smallest market. This could ultimately work out just fine — with a big season ahead, Grandal would re-enter free agency, and maybe next winter he’d find a larger guarantee. There’s nothing wrong with bringing home $18.25 million in the meantime. It’s just surprising there wasn’t greater demand. The Brewers lucked out; a good player just fell into their lap. It probably shouldn’t have happened.
Joe Frisaro just published a new entry at MLB.com. The most popular subject of trade rumors right now is Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, and Frisaro lists the consensus frontrunners as the Braves, Dodgers, Astros, Padres, Rays, and Reds. Maybe that’s all accurate, and maybe that’s partially accurate, but it’s easy to see why Realmuto would be a hot commodity. He’s athletic, he’s in his 20s, and he has another two years of arbitration eligibility. Oh, and he’s super good. Might be baseball’s best catcher.
That last part isn’t certain, though. Among the other candidates would be Yasmani Grandal. How effective is Grandal at the plate? The following table should give you an idea. For all regular and semi-regular catchers, you’re seeing three-year wRC+, single-year wRC+, and projected upcoming wRC+. The projections are based on Steamer.
|Gary Sanchez||124||Wilson Ramos||131||Buster Posey||117|
|Wilson Ramos||120||J.T. Realmuto||126||Gary Sanchez||116|
|Buster Posey||116||Yasmani Grandal||125||Yasmani Grandal||115|
|Yasmani Grandal||116||Francisco Cervelli||125||J.T. Realmuto||109|
|J.T. Realmuto||115||Omar Narvaez||122||Willson Contreras||108|
|Willson Contreras||113||Elias Diaz||114||Danny Jansen||108|
|Robinson Chirinos||110||Kurt Suzuki||108||Francisco Cervelli||107|
|Evan Gattis||109||Buster Posey||106||Wilson Ramos||106|
|Mike Zunino||108||Yadier Molina||103||Willians Astudillo||104|
|Tyler Flowers||108||Robinson Chirinos||103||Russell Martin||101|
Grandal profiles as a top-five offensive catcher. Perhaps even top-three. And I’ll remind you that the league-average wRC+ for a catcher isn’t 100. Last season, it was 84. Grandal has been in the majors for seven years. His lowest single-season wRC+ to date has been 100. He walks, and he hits for power. And that’s only the half of it.
Catchers also have critical defensive responsibilities. Now, some of these we think we’re good at quantifying, and others, not so much. But here’s another table, showing three-year and single-year Defensive Runs Saved per 1,000 innings. This includes pitch-framing, and there’s at least an attempt to include something that might capture game-calling success.
|Jeff Mathis||23.7||Jeff Mathis||32.5|
|Austin Hedges||18.0||Sandy Leon||17.5|
|Roberto Perez||17.2||Austin Hedges||16.6|
|Luke Maile||14.6||Max Stassi||15.3|
|Buster Posey||13.2||Buster Posey||13.2|
|Sandy Leon||13.1||Mike Zunino||13.0|
|Yasmani Grandal||13.0||Tyler Flowers||11.3|
|Martin Maldonado||12.0||Russell Martin||11.3|
|Manny Pina||11.6||Austin Romine||9.8|
|Derek Norris||10.4||Gary Sanchez||9.2|
In fairness, you don’t see Grandal on the right-hand side. But he’s actually just in 11th, a half-run behind Sanchez. Again, absolutely, these numbers aren’t perfect. Being a catcher is hard, and a lot of the job comes down to establishing relationships. I don’t know how you see that in statistics. But the statistics do capture an awful lot, and most of them agree that Grandal is quite good. At hitting, he’s good. At the defensive stuff we can measure, he’s good.
Maybe you’d like to see a direct player comparison. Here’s 2016-2018 Yasmani Grandal, and 2016-2018 J.T. Realmuto:
Basically the same at the plate. Realmuto is the better athlete, so he’s the better baserunner. But Grandal dominates Realmuto on the defensive side. According to DRS, the gap has been 64 runs. According to Baseball Prospectus, the gap has been 68 runs. Yes, Grandal is a couple years older. Yes, the defensive numbers might not reflect reality. Let’s say you want to cut Grandal’s defensive advantage in half. They’re still very comparable backstops. A team that likes Realmuto should be a team that likes Grandal.
Because Realmuto is still in his arbitration years, he’s more affordable under any budget. I recognize that makes him more widely appealing. Grandal was always going to require an eight-figure average salary. That surplus value, however, will be reflected in whatever prospect package the Marlins might get in return. Realmuto is going to cost a haul — they might get a prospect on the level of, say, Kyle Tucker. Grandal costs no prospects. I mean, yeah, he does cost a draft pick, but not a first-rounder. The Brewers are giving up just their third-highest draft pick. That’s worth maybe a couple million. All teams act like they’d rather have prospects than money. Here, they’ve behaved in the opposite way.
It’s not as if Grandal doesn’t have his warts, his various red or yellow flags. I’ve already been receiving messages critical of Grandal’s ability to get along with his pitchers. That’s been a long-standing impression, dating back to his time with the Padres. On the other hand, Zack Greinke tends to be pretty honest about his feelings, right? Here’s Greinke, from April 2015:
“He’s been unbelievable back there,” Greinke said. “His catching is better than advertised, and working with me individually, he’s been as good as you could expect. I don’t think, from what I’ve seen so far, you could ever have expected anything more.
“I couldn’t draw up a better catcher at the moment.”
That’s just one player talking, but that’s a pretty strong recommendation, and I’ve heard that Grandal has gotten better with his pitchers over time. The last couple years, Clayton Kershaw has made 39 starts with Grandal, and 15 starts with Austin Barnes. I’ll also note that, the last three years, the Dodgers have had a winning percentage of .593 in Grandal starts, and a winning percentage of .581 in non-Grandal starts. That’s not conclusive in any way, shape, or form, and Grandal has lost playing time to Barnes on the biggest stage each of the last two Octobers, but the Dodgers still preferred Grandal overall. They didn’t make a point of pushing him out the door. He was their main backstop for four straight first-place seasons.
I know that Grandal looked bad in the playoffs. I know that everyone knew that Grandal looked bad in the playoffs. Over his career so far, he’s been relatively unclutch. Teams don’t make decisions based on clutch performances, though, and the postseason numbers might not mean a thing. Over his first 27 games in the playoffs, Barry Bonds had an OPS of .618. From that point forward, over another 21 games in the playoffs, he had an OPS of 1.446. Bad moments in big moments can be hard to forget, but they’re easy to erase. One clutch hit turns everything around.
The more you stare at Grandal, the more you open yourself up to the criticism, the more you can understand how things landed where they did. Maybe Grandal tanked his own market when he couldn’t reach an agreement with the Mets. Maybe we haven’t made enough of how Grandal and his pitchers haven’t always been on the same page. Maybe the Dodgers knew something when they played Grandal less often in the playoffs. He might just not be the kind of guy you want to have around in a clubhouse for three or four years. Yet he was in the Dodgers’ clubhouse for four years! And as Emma Baccellieri wrote, it wasn’t all that long ago that Russell Martin signed for five years and $82 million. Martin was signing for his age-32 to age-36 seasons. Grandal is going into his age-30 season. The market has changed — that much is undeniable — but this is extreme.
It’s a great move for the Brewers, obviously. Grandal is a hell of a lot better than Manny Pina and Erik Kratz, and so this plugs a conspicuous hole. The Brewers are unlikely to miss the draft pick they’re giving up. For Grandal, he’s going to a contender, and he’ll make more than the qualifying offer, so it could be worse. He’ll try this all again in a year. But while I know the Brewers needed a catcher, where were the Angels on this one? Where were the Rockies on this one? Where were the Astros on this one? To name just a few teams. These aren’t even teams that aren’t trying. They just weren’t trying in this specific way. From where I sit, it boggles the mind.
Teams can talk about their restrictive budgets. Teams can talk about how they’d rather have Realmuto. All things being equal, I’d rather have Realmuto, too. But there’s only one J.T. Realmuto in baseball, and he’s going to cost a prospect fortune. Grandal was only going to cost money. I don’t know how he wound up with the Brewers, but it seems like the end result of seeing him for what he isn’t, as opposed to seeing him for what he is. That and the whole Mets thing, but it never should’ve been New York or bust.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.