One of these 3 teams really should sign Grandal

Catcher has four straight 20+ homer seasons

November 19th, 2019

Yasmani Grandal is the best catcher available in free agency, and that's an easy enough statement to make because he might just be the best all-around catcher in baseball. That doesn't need to be controversial; in 2019, he was the second-best hitting catcher among those who had 400 plate appearances, the second-best pitch framer, and, depending on the metrics you value, something like the third-best overall defensive catcher.

Even if you don't believe the existing metrics fully capture what a catcher can do for his pitching staff -- and they probably don't, entirely -- you get the idea. Grandal has been a full-time catcher for six seasons, and the last five of them have been star-level.

For example, start with the bat. Here's a list of Grandal's OPS+ marks, where 100 is "league average," in the six years starting with his first full season in 2014: 111, 112, 118, 101, 121, 119. Six years, zero below-average years. At worst, he's been league-average -- though even that is good for a catcher, where offense is hard to find -- and he's been routinely 10% to 20% better than average almost every single year.

In 2019, when he had a .380 OBP and a .468 slugging, Grandal hit like Francisco Lindor (118 OPS+) or Tommy Pham (119 OPS+), and he did it as a catcher. He has six straight years of double-digit homers, and four straight of at least 22.

Obviously, the other selling point here is his elite pitch framing, which has also maintained a consistent level of excellence. Grandal was second-best at it in 2019, third-best over the last three seasons, and easily the best -- by a huge margin -- since his 2014 full-season debut. (Numbers can vary on this, but by FanGraphs' reckoning, his framing alone has been worth about 11 wins since 2014, an enormous number.)

Put that all together, and Grandal has been a star. In 2019, according to FanGraphs' version of Wins Above Replacement, he was roughly the 20th-best position player in baseball. Over the last three years, he's been 15th. Over the last five years? 12th. You get the idea. This is five straight star-level seasons.

Whether or not you actually consider him to be a Top-15 player in the game isn't really the point; he's irrefutably a Top-3 catcher at a weak position, and he isn't weighed down by the qualifying offer, having already received one last year. A year after reportedly turning down a four-year, $60 million offer from the Mets to bet on himself with a one-year, $18.25 million pact with the Brewers, Grandal looks likely to make up that missing money and perhaps then some. (FanGraphs projects a three-or-four-year deal at between $60 million and $70 million.)

It's been such a valuable package that, after Anthony Rendon, Grandal is either the second- or third-best free-agent position player available, depending on how you feel about Josh Donaldson. Let's call it a tie; they're both great, in some very different ways.

So where are the best actual fits? Let's rank them.

The teams that don't really need him

30-28) Phillies, Dodgers, Twins

J.T. Realmuto is Grandal's main competition for "baseball's best catcher," and the Phillies are reportedly interested in extending him. The Dodgers just got 15 homers in 54 games from highly-regarded rookie Will Smith, who is expected to be their everyday catcher in 2020 (with highly-regarded prospect Keibert Ruiz close behind). The Twins may not know if Mitch Garver's insane breakout (31 homers in 93 games) is for real, but you can understand why they're going to find out. Wherever Grandal ends up, it's not going to be these cities.

The teams with bigger fish to fry

27-22) Red Sox, Pirates, Royals, Mariners, Orioles, Tigers

Could Grandal help these teams? Certainly. Is he going to land with any of them? Almost certainly not. This group is a combination of rebuilding teams that would be unlikely to entice Grandal if he hopes to play for a winner and the Red Sox, who are focusing on shedding salary rather than adding it, and seem satisfied with Christian Vázquez anyway.

The teams with decent enough catching situations

21-15) D-backs, Giants, Cardinals, Indians, Cubs, Mets, Yankees

If given the choice in a vacuum, you'd probably take Grandal over Willson Contreras and Wilson Ramos (poor framing with good bats); Buster Posey (poor 2019, advancing age); Yadier Molina (below-average bat, advancing age); Roberto Pérez (elite defense with only-okay bat); Carson Kelly (lack of track record despite good 2019); Gary Sánchez (defensive questions) and so on. Maybe you wouldn't.

But the Cards aren't really going to displace the legendary Molina, nor are the Giants with Posey, especially with Joey Bart coming. The Mets should absolutely prioritize Grandal, but they already tried for him once, and they settled for Ramos instead. The Indians have larger issues in the outfield and second base. Unless a trade opens up the catcher position, these teams probably won't be his new home.

The 2019 non-playoff teams who could use him

14-10) Blue Jays, Padres, Rangers, Angels, Marlins

You might argue that some of these teams belong in the 'bigger fish to fry' category above -- this is all somewhat subjective, after all -- but we're giving them their own grouping here for a few reasons.

The Blue Jays, for example, have reportedly already met with Grandal's agents, and could certainly use a veteran bat to support a young lineup and a strong catcher to support a weak pitching staff (though Danny Jansen was capable in that regard). The Rangers are opening a new ballpark and had Jeff Mathis hit .158/.209/.224 last year; the Padres have made their desire to end their nine-year losing record streak clear and just had Austin Hedges hit .176/.252/.311. A San Diego reunion with Grandal might help take some of the bad taste away from the looked-bad-even-at-the-time 2014 trade that sent him to the Dodgers as part of a deal for Matt Kemp.

The Angels reportedly offered Grandal a multi-year deal last winter; when he didn't take it, they signed veteran Jonathan Lucroy, who made it only until Aug. 3 before being cut loose. With Joe Maddon on board and the years of Mike Trout's career slowly ticking by, there's no time like the present to take advantage of the chaos in Houston. That probably means Gerrit Cole, and it should mean Cole and another starter at least, but as we've said, there's more than one way to help your pitching staff. With all due respect to Kevan Smith and Max Stassi, they're not enough, especially with Stassi still recovering from hip surgery. That said, the focus on pitching might make this less likely.

And the Marlins? Fine, it's not likely, because they're rarely playing at the top of the market, and they like incumbent Jorge Alfaro. But they combine a worst-in-baseball offense with some interesting young pitching, and they're reportedly interested in former South Florida prospect Nicholas Castellanos in a bid to upgrade that lineup. Grandal, who went to high school in Miami Springs and college at the University of Miami, would certainly qualify.

"But what about ..." Don't worry. There's more teams to go.

The 2019 playoff teams who could use him

9-4) Brewers, Nationals, Astros, Rays, Braves, A's

Milwaukee now has a Grandal-shaped hole behind the plate, so that one is obvious, but the Nationals, Astros, Rays and Braves all had their primary 2019 catcher depart via either free agency or retirement. (The A's probably will roll with young Sean Murphy, but we'll leave the door open because he missed two months with a knee injury in Triple-A, getting into only 20 late-season Major League games.)

The Astros aren't going to hand a starting job to Garrett Stubbs, nor will the Nationals be content with only 36-year-old Kurt Suzuki, while the Braves likely view Tyler Flowers as more of a backup. Tampa Bay doesn't often hand out contracts like this, but catcher is a a desperate need; Travis d'Arnaud is a free agent and Mike Zunino hit so poorly (.165/.232/.312) that he might be non-tendered. As Rays GM Erik Neander has made clear, adding offense is the priority this winter.

Each of these teams either made it to October only as a Wild Card team, is at risk of losing considerable talent, or both. The best way to get back to the playoffs? Adding great players.

The 3 teams who could really, really use him

Now we're into it. We're into the perfect fits, the teams that claim to want to contend in 2020 but don't have the current pieces to do it, and have a very big need at catcher. The previous 27 teams have various reasons to consider or not consider Grandal. These three ought to be camped out on his doorstep.

3) Rockies

This isn't likely to happen, because the team's brass has already tried to limit expectations for the winter, which is too bad because it would be an incredible fit. Colorado's disappointing 2019 campaign was mostly about pitching, but it was also about offense, particularly at catcher, where Chris Iannetta was cut loose in August, and Tony Wolters -- who has just seven career homers and a .239/.327/.324 line despite calling Coors Field home -- is a backup at best, even if the team seems prepared to let him start in 2020. The pop in Grandal's bat aside, the team has rarely had strong pitch framing, and there are few better ways to help your current pitchers improve than that.

2) White Sox

A few weeks back, we detailed how the White Sox rebuild was finally bearing some fruit, making this winter an ideal time to add some support. You might accurately note that their current catcher, James McCann, made the All-Star team in 2019, but let's go back to what we wrote at the time about that:

Sign Yasmani Grandal. Prioritize it. It's the only move that helps your lineup and your pitching staff.

It's true that James McCann made the All-Star team last year, but it's also true that was ... somewhat of a fluke.

McCann, Tigers (2014-'18): .240/.288/.366 (.653 OPS)

McCann, White Sox (through June 30): .319/.376/.514 (.890 OPS, .403 BABIP)

McCann, White Sox (from July 1 on): .231/.285/.410 (.695 OPS)

In addition, the White Sox had the second-worst catcher framing in baseball last year, with McCann alone costing nine runs. (Three White Sox pitchers, including Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, were among the five most harmed by poor framing in 2018.)

McCann's a solid backup, but he's not really who you want starting on your playoff contender. Grandal is.

1) Reds

The Reds made a ton of win-now moves last winter; problem was, they still finished 75-87. The good news is that the pitching was outstanding, with a year-to-year turnaround that was borderline historic. The bad news is that the offense was weak, especially behind the plate, where Tucker Barnhart has hit just .241/.328/.375 (85 OPS+) over the last two years, with framing stats that have ranged from very bad to about average.

The Reds have said they will increase payroll this winter, they're clearly eyeing offense to spend it on and they've reportedly already begun to pursue Grandal. There might not be a better match of fit, need and payroll in baseball. It was the Reds, you might remember, who drafted Grandal 12th overall in the 2010 Draft -- a pick ahead of Chris Sale -- before shipping the catcher off to San Diego the next year as part of a package for starter Mat Latos. Why not bring it full circle?