What Grandal signing means for catching market

November 21st, 2019

bet on himself last winter when he turned down a reported four-year, $60 million offer from the Mets and wound up signing a one-year deal with the Brewers that netted him $18.25 million. He used the 2019 season to once again prove he’s one of the most valuable catchers, and he turned that campaign into a four-year, $73 million deal with the White Sox on Thursday.

A deal this big this early has ramifications around the Majors. Let’s explore the Grandal dominoes.

1. The American League Central is becoming more interesting.

In more than a few places on this website and others, the White Sox have been touted as a potential breakout team in 2020 because of the strides their young talent made in '19 and their financial flexibility. But the latter doesn’t apply if you don’t apply it, and apply it they did with this Grand(al) Plan.

The Sox were a 72-win team in 2019, and Grandal (2.5) was actually worth less in Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement than (3.8). So even with continued internal improvement, there’s more heavy lifting to do on this roster. But whereas McCann’s rise to slightly-above-average offensive production (109 OPS+) was a big leap for him, Grandal has a significantly more proven offensive track record (career 115 OPS+) that inspires confidence in his continued clout, especially by catcher standards, moving forward. (And for what it’s worth, FanGraphs’ WAR calculations were totally different -- 5.2 for Grandal, 2.3 for McCann.)

The AL Central is the Majors' weakest division, and the Twins, in going from 78 wins in 2018 to 101 in '19 to topple the Indians, are evidence of how quickly a club can rise with the right augmentation. The White Sox are very clearly on the right track toward that end with Grandal, and the Twins and Indians both have a lot of questions to answer in the Hot Stove season.

2. McCann could potentially get dealt.

Again, while the overall offensive track record just isn’t there, McCann is coming off a strong season -- the best of his big league career by a long shot. A free agent after the 2020 season, the 29-year-old is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to be worth $4.9 million in his last round of arbitration. Teams might be more inclined to make a trade for McCann than to pursue a multiyear deal with a 36-year-old Robinson Chirinos, a 33-year-old Jason Castro or a 31-year-old Travis d’Arnaud -- the top remaining free-agent catchers.

So at worst, McCann is a quality backup to Grandal for the White Sox, and that feels like the most likely solution here, especially if other teams are scared off by his second-half regression at the plate.

But at best, McCann's a marketable trade piece, because…

3. A bunch of teams could still use a catching upgrade.

The White Sox have filled their need, but that still leaves the Rays, Reds, Astros, Nationals, Braves, A’s, Angels, Rangers and, of course, Grandal’s former Brewers team among the clubs who A) view themselves as 2020 contenders and B) could use an upgrade behind the dish. All of them would have been great fits for Grandal, and all of them could remain in the market for help moving forward.

But the free-agent market, as is often the case, thins out quickly at catcher, which means…

4. Contreras’ trade value is enormous.

That was the case before Grandal signed, but now the catching market becomes a lot clearer with the big fish off the board. The Cubs are trying to shore up their long-term prospects by looking for ways to capitalize on their expensive and/or expiring assets at the big league level. But while Kris Bryant’s potential availability is a big talking point among fans and media, , a two-time All-Star entering arbitration for the first time this winter and under club control through 2022, is the player more likely to entice a blockbuster offer and, ergo, the player more likely to move.

5. The Brewers have to find offense elsewhere.

Among the players with at least 300 plate appearances for the Brewers in 2019, Grandal’s 121 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) mark trailed only those of Christian Yelich (174) and Keston Hiura (139). Eric Thames, who ranked fifth at 116, was cut loose with the decline of his '20 option. Mike Moustakas, who ranked sixth with a 113 mark, is also a free agent.

Whether or not the Brewers turn over the starting catching duties to , they have a production void to account for in their offense. This is a team that has taken some creative risks with its infield alignment the last two years to augment the offense, and so Milwaukee can be expected to leave no stone unturned again. Josh Donaldson, Howie Kendrick, Didi Gregorius and Brock Holt are among the many options that could potentially fit the Brewers like a… wait for it… ball in a glove.