Just two days ago, Dustin wrote about what the Dodgers could do if they didn’t end up acquiring Bryce Harper or Corey Kluber. He mentioned one of those options as a potential reunion with Grandal, which could potentially work out very well for both sides.
Then there’s Yasmani Grandal. Recency bias will have folks not liking him as an option at all, but he’s one of the best all-around catchers in the game and is, somewhat remarkably, still a free agent. There was a report that he turned down a 4-year, $60 million deal from the Mets. I’m extremely skeptical this is true. If it is, then he really doesn’t want to play for the Mets, because there’s no other reason his agent would advise him to turn down that deal. So, if Grandal comes back on, say, a 1-year deal at a rate both he and the Dodgers could agree on, he’d go back into the free agent market without the qualifying offer attached to him, making him a more attractive option. I also don’t think teams are fretting over losing their second-highest (2nd-rounder for most teams) and $500,000 of international signing money to sign a Top 5 catcher. I really think most are being swayed by Grandal’s poor postseason performance. If that’s the case, the Dodgers could benefit by getting him back for another season.
A reunion between Grandal and the Dodgers is seemingly unlikely because the situations and timing have to both match up correctly. Grandal could easily sign a multi-year deal tomorrow securing his salary for the next few years. If the Dodgers are really in on Harper (they should be), they’ll have to wait that out before figuring out exactly how to address their other needs. Boras and Harper are extremely unlikely to sign until after Manny Machado has signed to ensure Harper gets a more impressive contract. Additionally, Cleveland could decide to hold off on trading Kluber until the dust settles in the free agency market. Either situation makes it less and less likely that Grandal and the Dodgers will end up in agreement.
But if Grandal were to return, the Dodgers would enjoy at least one more season with one of the top three catchers in the league.
Postseason aside, Grandal was one of the top offensive catchers in 2018. His 125 wRC+ trailed only Wilson Ramos (131) and J.T. Realmuto (126), while his .225 isolated slugging led all catchers. Additionally, his 24 homers trailed only Salvador Perez (27). In addition to being a top tier offensive catcher, Grandal excelled behind the plate as usual. He was the most valuable pitch-framing catcher in 2018, worth nearly 16 runs over the course of the season. Dating back through 2015, Grandal has been the best pitch-framing catcher twice, with his worst year being 2017 where he was just the fourth most valuable framer.
WAR is difficult to use when evaluating catchers, as blocking, framing, and controlling baserunners has to be accurately accounted for. This is all without the aspect of game-calling which is it’s own thing entirely. Baseball Prospectus (bWARP) seems to most accurately portray all aspects of what a catcher does, especially in regards to framing. Factoring that in, there’s an argument that Grandal is just as valuable a catcher as Realmuto is. Over the last four seasons, Grandal has undoubtedly been one of the best catchers in the game but based on bWARP he’s been elite, and miles ahead of anyone not named Buster Posey.
Grandal is obviously a top-tier catcher, although the elephant in the room is obviously his recent performance in the postseason. In 2017, Grandal was hitless in his eleven postseason plate appearances and Austin Barnes was the starting catcher for the entirety of the playoffs. Just a few months ago, Grandal slashed .138/.265/.276 over 34 appearances, totaling just four hits for a 56 wRC+.
Small postseason sample sizes aren’t a valid reason to not sign good players. Say the Dodgers were to acquire Realmuto, one could say that they finally have a catcher who will be able to perform in the playoffs, but he could just as easily struggle as bad as Grandal has. Anyone can perform poorly over 30 plate appearances, or 20 innings. It’s an extremely small sample size, and it’s easy to say someone can’t perform in October, until they do — see David Price for example. Poor performance in the playoffs shouldn’t dissuade your favorite team from signing a very good baseball player.
Everyone has their own opinions in regards to Grandal, but there is a legitimate argument that he’s the best all-around catcher in the league. Granted, Realmuto is two years younger, under team control for two more years, set to make less than Grandal would, and is significantly more athletic. This is why the Marlins are expecting a ton in a potential trade. However, the difference between the two isn’t near what it’s portrayed to be. It’s all entirely dependent on what the team values most.
Realmuto would cost a lot in a trade, but the Dodgers have the depth and the farm system to get that done. If they don’t want to sacrifice depth or prospects, signing Grandal outright makes sense, as it’s just money and the team can afford it. In the end, Grandal is solidified as a top-three catcher in all of baseball, so if the situation arises where the Dodgers don’t land any of their reported top targets, pursuing Grandal makes a ton of sense.