Grandal paying major dividends for Dodgers
Los Angeles getting the best of the deal that sent Kemp to San Diego
PHOENIX -- The big offseason trade that sent Matt Kemp from the Dodgers to the Padres has been turned upside down and analyzed from the San Diego end. But Los Angeles has also been a big beneficiary of the Dec. 18 deal.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal was the Dodgers' main addition in the five-player swap, and he's also had a major impact.
Everything happens for a reason, said Grandal, who only two seasons ago played in just 28 games book-ended by a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone (a violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program), and a season-ending knee injury.
"It was definitely a year to forget," said Grandal, after knocking in four runs with a homer and a double in the Dodgers' 6-4, 10-inning victory over the D-backs at Chase Field on Tuesday. "You've got to hit rock bottom in order to climb back up. I felt like that was rock bottom there.
"I had the suspension and then I messed up my knee. It looked like nothing was going my way."
Now, it's a different story. The second-inning homer was already Grandal's 12th of the season in 61 games. Kemp has hit six for the Padres in 78 games. San Diego's right fielder, though, has driven in 41 runs to Grandal's 31. Grandal is hitting .269 to Kemp's .247, and has played so well behind the plate he's supplanted incumbent A.J. Ellis, who's batting .171 and has only played in 26 games.
Grandal is 26 and he may not travel to Cincinnati on July 14 for the All-Star Game, but he's certainly making a good case to be selected to the National League squad. He's fourth among NL catchers in RBIs (behind Buster Posey, Derek Norris and Wilson Ramos) and is tied with Posey for the lead in home runs.
It's only Grandal's fourth big league season, but it has been a breakout first half for the Cuban. He had two homers and eight RBIs in a 14-4 win at Milwaukee on May 7.
"He's had some big games," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "He has a good eye, and he's gotten some good swings. I still think there's more in there with him. I don't think people realize how good he was swinging the bat at the end of last year."
Grandal's 2013 season began with the suspension and ended on July 7 when he blew out the ACL in his right knee when Washington's Anthony Rendon crushed him in a collision at the plate. Reconstructive surgery followed. Even though he remained mostly healthy in 2014 and played in 128 games, he batted only .225 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs.
As Mattingly said, Grandal began to find it late, putting together a two-homer, five-RBI game against the Giants at San Francisco on Sept. 25. It took him most of the season to get his bearings back.
"There was so much negativity going around when I got hurt," Grandal recalled. "Mainly it was the media saying, 'He's not going to be back for a year, he's not going to do this and he's not going to do that,' so I took it personally. I told them I was going to be back in seven months, and that's what I did.
"Was I 100 percent? Not really, but I'm an athlete and I like to compete. When they tell me I'm not going to do something, I like to prove them wrong."
Grandal was a Minor Leaguer when the Padres obtained him from the Reds in the Dec. 17, 2011, trade that sent right-hander Mat Latos to Cincinnati. Almost exactly three years later, Grandal was traded again, this time to the Dodgers along with pitcher Joe Wieland for Kemp and Tim Federowicz, the Dodgers' backup catcher.
Federowicz has since had a knee surgery of his own, and is out for the season. Kemp has not yet played to his full potential. Grandal was playing winter ball when he received word of his trade to Los Angeles. He figured he was on his way out of San Diego.
"I wasn't surprised that they traded me," he said. "It was just a matter of who was going to go in the deal, but I knew I was going to go. It did surprise me that I went to a team in the same division. And it really surprised me that I went for Kemp. I mean, he's a top-of-the-line player. You don't really think that you're going to get traded for a guy like that. Obviously, they saw something in me, and it is what it is now."
It is now the best of times after the worst of times, climbing back up toward the top of the peak after admittedly hitting rock bottom. Kemp is gone, but not forgotten. Grandal is making the most of the opportunity.
"It's new scenery," he said. "Ever since I've come here, they've done everything in their power to make me feel welcome. I've been in two organizations before, but by far this is the best of all those organizations."