Early last week, Brewers general manager David Stearns told manager Craig Counsell that Milwaukee was close to signing free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal. Stearns had mentioned the idea early this offseason, Counsell said, but he downplayed the possibility until it became realistic.
Counsell's one-word reply in a text message would later be repeated by many around the baseball world: "Wow."
The Brewers formally introduced Grandal during a press conference at Miller Park on Tuesday, a day after officially signing him to a one-year contract that reportedly includes a mutual option for 2020. Grandal will earn $16 million this year, and his $16 million option includes a $2.25 million buyout.
"At the front end of the offseason, had you told me that we'd be sitting here right now, I probably would have been surprised," Stearns said. "But [owner] Mark Attanasio encouraged us to pursue every avenue possible to improve this team throughout the offseason. As this opportunity became a possibility, Mark and the ownership group authorized us to stretch our resources beyond our normal constraints. And equally important was the fact that Yasmani expressed a consistent desire to join our organization."
What led Grandal to the Brewers? The former Dodgers catcher expressed his admiration for the club -- particularly the "three-headed monster in the bullpen," as he put it -- but also pointed to some off-the-field factors that pushed him toward Milwaukee.
"It came down to what was best for my family," Grandal said. "My wife said she'd rather have Spring Training here [in Phoenix] and be with the kids a little bit more. I have a 14-month-old who's running crazy around the house, and if this gives me two extra months to watch him run around, that's one of the most important parts for me. [Free agency] was a little stressful being my first time through it, but the fact that I'm here is very exciting for me and my family. I can't wait to get going."
Grandal got a first-hand look at the Brewers last October, as his Dodgers narrowly won the seven-game National League Championship Series.
"They've made the right moves. I like the way they play. I like the way that it seems like the clubhouse has a great feel to it," Grandal said. "I feel like they click, and it showed last season, especially late in the year where they were able to make a big run. The fact that they did that, it shows that they're built to win and they're built to win now.
"In my opinion, this is one of the most complete teams in baseball."
The Brewers' open competitive window also prompted Attanasio to allow Stearns to splurge for an upgrade behind the plate. Signing Grandal to such a high annual salary is a break from the norm for the small-market Brewers, and because Grandal declined the Dodgers' qualifying offer, signing him cost Milwaukee its third-highest selection in the 2019 Draft. But just as they did with outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain last January, the Brewers seized the opportunity to add one of the best players at his position.
"Mark was very open from the beginning of the offseason that he wanted us to explore every opportunity possible to improve the team, whether or not it could exist within the constraints that we've previously operated under," Stearns said. "In this case, as we talked through it, Mark certainly understood the value that we could bring to the organization and was very supportive of us pursuing it."
Milwaukee still has incumbent catcher Manny Pina and veteran Erik Kratz on the roster, with No. 9 Brewers prospectJacob Nottingham not far behind. Pina and Kratz are out of Minor League options, but Kratz's salary is not fully guaranteed until Opening Day. That should allow the Brewers to sort through their options during Spring Training.
While the Brewers stand to benefit from Grandal's presence in their lineup and behind the plate, the 30-year-old backstop -- who reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million offer from the Mets -- should be better off in Milwaukee's hitter-friendly environment. He hits for more power from the left side, and he's going to spend a lot less time in the NL West's mostly pitcher-friendly ballparks.
"I think about 85 percent of all Major League ballparks would have been good for me, as long as it wasn't Petco Park or Dodger Stadium," Grandal joked. "But I love hitting here. I love playing here. I also took that into account of why I wanted to come here. It's also going to be exciting to be away from those pitcher-friendly ballparks. For me, it's a challenge to be in a ballpark where, when I'm behind the plate, I need to take into account what I'm calling and how I want to go through certain situations."
With Grandal, the Brewers have significantly improved one of the few holes on their roster. The switch-hitting Grandal slashed .241/.349/.466 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs in 140 games last season, posting a 125 weighted runs created plus that ranked 50 points higher than the total produced by Milwaukee's catchers in 2018. Grandal is also highly regarded behind the plate as he rated as the game's best pitch-framing catcher, according to Baseball Prospectus.
"Lengthening your lineup is so important," Counsell said. "Adding a switch-hitter to that mix that's going to be a consistent presence in the lineup is something that's new for us, and it's something that's going to be very valuable. We've added a very good offensive player to the lineup. Defensively, he's proven how good he is -- and the receiving numbers that's he's generated and how important that is, it's a very important part of the game. Yasmani's very good at it."