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Three questions for Crew with Grandal in mix

Brewers agree to one-year deal with free-agent catcher
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers are not expected to finalize their surprise one-year agreement with free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal until next week, giving us some time to ponder what it means for the rest of Milwaukee's offseason.

Here are three questions that came to mind:

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers are not expected to finalize their surprise one-year agreement with free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal until next week, giving us some time to ponder what it means for the rest of Milwaukee's offseason.

Here are three questions that came to mind:

1. Does it signal a change of philosophy?
In general manager David Stearns' opening monologue of the offseason, when he and manager Craig Counsell gathered with reporters to talk about the winter ahead with a loss to the Dodgers in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series still stinging, Stearns noted right off the top that the core of the team would be back in 2019. He later suggested a different kind of offseason was ahead, a quieter one than in years past. He predicted going into Spring Training with "a slightly different-looking roster than the one we have right now, perhaps in ways that we don't envision."

Well, signing the top catcher on the free-agent market to the highest salary on the team seems like more than a "slight" adjustment, even if the commitment to Grandal does not go beyond one year at $18.25 million. The question is whether landing a player of Grandal's caliber changes the outlook of Stearns & Co. for the rest of the offseason. Are they now willing to go bigger at other positions than previously thought? Second base remains a need, and the Brewers continue to be linked in trade talks to Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, for example.

The truth is we do not know, for two reasons: One, Stearns and other Brewers officials were not talking Thursday because Grandal's contract is contingent on passing a physical exam. When Counsell was asked about it at Miller Park -- he helped announce a Billy Joel concert in April (tickets go on sale Jan. 18 at Brewers.com/BillyJoel) -- he told a television reporter, "We can't talk about that today." Two, because of Stearns' tendency to be in on a large swath of available players in an effort to understand the marketplace as a whole. When a cost-effective opportunity presents itself, such as landing a player like Grandal to a one-year deal that no one saw coming, Stearns is in position to strike.

2. What happened to talk of a tight budget?
The Brewers entered this offseason with a much tighter budget than they had last winter, when they committed about $150 million in future salaries to sign free agents Lorenzo Cain and Jhoulys Chacin and trade for Christian Yelich. That talk was true -- and it's still true, even if signing an $18.25 million catcher seems to suggest otherwise.

Friday is the deadline for teams and their unsigned arbitration-eligible players to exchange salary proposals, so we will see more detail about the payroll picture. But we already know that even with Jonathan Schoop's big number off the books, the Brewers project to either flirt with or exceed their all-time record for player payroll. As has been reported all along, owner Mark Attanasio has always been willing to stretch the budget for the right deal and the right player, and getting Grandal on a one-year deal fell squarely into that category. That salary will be off the books following next season. Ryan Braun's salary will likely be off the books following 2020, the final guaranteed year of his contract.

"Mark is always willing to stretch if the situation or the talent warrants it, and frankly, this is a year that warrants it," Brewers chief operating officer Rick Schlesinger said Thursday. "I've talked to Mark, and I feel very confident that based on the success we've had and the ticket sales, that we can do great things in '19 and build on what we did in '18. I take it as a challenge from ownership that our job is to generate incremental revenue above what we did in '18. As the one responsible for the revenue and how we get there, I'm very comfortable."

Schlesinger reported a 98 percent renewal rate among season seat holders, which he believes is an all-time high. New season ticket sales and group sales, not surprisingly, are pacing ahead of last year at this time.

3. Does Grandal's deal impact the infield search?
The Brewers needed a second baseman after opting to nontender Schoop in late November. Now it's mid-January, and they still need a second baseman. Or a third baseman, in which case they could move Travis Shaw to second.

Grandal could play some first base, but he isn't going to man second or third, so that search will continue. ESPN's Jeff Passan reported on Thursday that the Brewers were in "heavy pursuit of an infielder to play second or third base," though it wasn't clear whether Passan's source was indicating the Brewers were making progress with a specific player or simply had shifted the focus to solving that infield opening.

Two potential targets fell off the board Thursday when sources confirmed to MLB.com that free-agent second baseman Brian Dozier was moving toward a one-year deal with the Nationals and Jed Lowrie toward a two-year deal with the Mets. Still, many infielders remain on the market, including several free agents -- Marwin Gonzalez, DJ LeMahieu, Wilmer Flores, Josh Harrison among them -- who have experience at both second and third base. A source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand on Thursday that the Brewers were in on LeMahieu earlier this winter but that interest had cooled of late.

Mike Moustakas also remains available. He's been a third baseman throughout his career but expressed an openness to play second after the Brewers traded for him in July.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Yasmani Grandal