The Milwaukee Brewers found a bargain Wednesday night, and in the process landed the best catcher available on the open market.
Yasmani Grandal, the switch-hitting veteran who slugged 73 home runs over the last three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, reached a one-year agreement to join the defending National League Central champions.
As Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown first reported, the deal is worth $18.25 million.
Grandal deal with Brewers worth $18.25m. One year.
— Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) January 10, 2019
It’s no small chunk of change by any stretch. However, it represents a steep decline in Grandal’s market value just in the last few weeks.
On Dec. 28, Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times reported that Grandal turned down a four-year, $60 million contract from the New York Mets earlier in the offseason. His deal with Milwaukee does barely exceed the $17.9 million qualifying offer he turned down from the Dodgers, which we suppose is a silver lining.
If nothing else, it’s rare under the circumstances.
On Grandal's $18.25 mil with Brewers, very few players have rejected QO and then gotten more than QO in a one-year deal. Bautista and Kuroda come to mind. Grandal may be only one to get more on a one-year deal with new team.
— Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) January 10, 2019
But it is fair to question if Grandal’s decision during a time when teams are taking a more tight-pocketed approach to free agency will end up costing him.
The potential upside of Yasmani Grandal’s decision
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Grandal’s market didn’t develop as he anticipated. There would be no shame in admitting that either, because no one on the outside looking in figured he’d end up with a one-year deal.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll lose big. The gamble he took on himself could still pay off, but that could largely hinge on his production in Milwaukee.
On the plus side, the opportunity will be there. The recently turned 30-year-old will serve as a notable offensive upgrade for a Brewers team that relied on a Manny Pina and Erik Kratz platoon last season. Over the last three seasons, Grandal’s averaged a .239/.332/.467 slashline. More importantly, he’s averaged 24 homers and 21 doubles.
That’s excellent pop from the catcher’s position. Something the Brewers haven’t had since trading Jonathan Lucroy in 2016, and something that will make it easier for Milwaukee to overlook his at times sloppy defense. More on that later.
A strong season could find Grandal right back on the market staring at several multiple-year offers. The big difference next winter would be the lack of a qualifying offer attached to his name. To sign Grandal this winter, the Brewers are giving up a compensatory draft pick. It’s well worth it to them considering they are postseason contenders. Other teams were surely more reluctant to spend the money and part with a draft pick.
All Grandal would need next winter is a three-year offer worth around $14 million per season to make up the reported Mets offer in full. It’s not unreasonable to think he could surpass that with an All-Star caliber season and a handful more teams involved.
The potential downside of Yasmani Grandal’s decision
It’s baseball. Nothing is guaranteed. Injuries happen. Performance declines, sometimes quickly and without warning. A good bet on one’s self today can look completely different one week from now.
Beyond that, Grandal isn’t without his flaws.
While he provides top-level power and run production from his position, and while he’s viewed as one of baseball’s best pitch framers, there are still moments when his defense is a liability. Then there are moments when his defense is a disaster, which was displayed during the last postseason.
Grandal led the league in passed balls during the 2017 season. He allowed nine more in the 2018 regular season, and then an additional three in National League Championship Series alone. The Dodgers managed to overcome it, and while the Brewers had a front row seat for the meltdown, they clearly weren’t spooked by it.
Grandal’s offense should still trump the defensive concerns next winter. That is, unless he continues bottoming out in October. His career playoff batting average sits at .107 after he went 4-for-29 during the 2018 postseason. The poor postseason performance could give potential suitors reason for pause.
What Yasmani Grandal’s deal says about baseball
When we look back at the free agent signings from this offseason a few months down the line, Grandal’s contract could be the most interesting to examine. It may also be the most telling in regard to a free agent system that is clearly crumbling more each year.
Yes, Grandal left a lot of money on the table. That was his call, and it could end up costing him a lot of money. But it’s still difficult to understand or justify the top free agent at any position, let alone a top-10 free agent on nearly everyone’s board, having to navigate such a limited market.
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