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Grandal’s Signing And Its Impact In A Tight National League Central

Yasmani Grandal opted to accept a shorter deal to maximize his earnings for 2019. How does his move to Milwaukee impact the NL Central in 2019?

Entering the MLB offseason, it was widely considered that Yasmani Grandal was one of, if not, the best available free agent catcher. 

Earlier this offseason, Grandal was expected to receive a lucrative contract from an interested team. As an above-average offensive and defensive player (apart from the World Series where he allowed three passed balls), Grandal is one of the best, consistent catchers, which is a premium position in the league.

Most of those lucrative offers did not come his way. However, one team offered him a long-term deal, and that was the New York Mets.

The Mets’ interest in Grandal was unsurprising; they needed catcher help. For years, they have been burdened with the mediocre Kevin Plawecki (who was traded to the Indians) and the oft-injured Travis d’Arnaud, who was one of the featured players that came over to the Mets in the trade with the Blue Jays for R.A. Dickey. To entice Grandal to come to Queens, the Mets offered a deal that was larger than any other potential Grandal suitors—a four-year, $60 million dollar contract.

He rejected it. 

“I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did,” Grandal said, according to The New York Post.

“Guys like Brian McCann and Russell Martin, Yadier Molina. These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around.”

Doing a disservice. Those words have sent shockwaves throughout the MLB landscape, many players bemoaning the state of free agency. Like last offseason, many top free agents remained unsigned, including Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Dallas Keuchel. Years ago, these three players would have been able to agree on lucrative contracts during the Winter Meetings. Not so much anymore.

“I wanted to keep the line moving, especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up. … To let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from,” Grandal added, according to The New York Post.

Grandal ended up settling with the Milwaukee Brewers for a 1-year, $18.25 million deal

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The Milwaukee Brewers had one of their best seasons in franchise history last year. They came one game away from a World Series berth. New acquisitions Lorenzo Cain and National League MVP Christian Yelich did their job. Their main position of weakness entering this offseason was catcher. Last year, they rolled with Manny Pina and Eric Kratz, two decidedly average ballplayers who do not move the needle for any ballclub, but there are worse catching tandems in the league. 

When Grandal rejected the Mets offer, they saw an opportunity to take advantage—by increasing the annual salary and decreasing the years, the Brewers were able to entice Grandal to forgo longer-term deals and sign with them. 

Grandal instantly makes the Brewers better and in a National League Central that keeps getting tougher, it is a power move that the Brewers needed. For Grandal though, although he signed the dotted line, he still must be feeling frustrated with the free agency process.

The main question we all should be asking is: Should baseball continue to be okay with how free agency is playing out?

There is a new paradigm in how MLB executives evaluate players and build teams. Years ago, players would begin their careers underpaid, performing well on their rookie contracts, and then cash in on their free agency contracts. Even if they were overpaid in their second contracts, it was widely understood by MLB executives that overpaying players for potential decline later in the deal was the price to pay to build winning squads. 

However, teams and executives got smarter. Thanks to the rise of sabermetrics and the current emphasis on prospects and cost-controlled players, teams have opted to follow the winning formula that teams like the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros have laid out—instead of placing all the money in buying upgrades the idea was to invest the money in building the farm system with the hope that several cheap, impactful prospects could get the Major League call at the same time and then compete for championships. 

So with that in mind: Is MLB Free Agency broken? Depends who you ask. MLB executives will probably point out to you that a larger deal was on the table for Grandal, and he chose to decline it and settle for less money. The players and the MLBPA will argue that teams are squeezing out veterans, resulting in many talented veteran players getting paid way less than they deserve.

An argument that supports the MLBPA is when you look at Grandal’s deal compared to the one signed by Russell Martin in 2015. At the time, Martin was arguably the premier free agent catcher on the market. As a result, it can be seen that he certainly got paid like it. Yet Grandal, who sported better numbers, did not get a deal comparable to Martin:

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The chart would argue that Grandal’s deal should be in the 5-year, $90 million range. At the time he signed the contract, Grandal was 30, two years younger than Martin. Grandal also sports better offensive and defensive numbers, which are reinforced when other metrics are examined.

Catchers have enormous defensive responsibilities. Not all defensive metrics are good at being quantified, but evaluating a catcher’s defense is easy when their Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) is examined. This is because the metric includes pitch framing, which is a statistic that is measurable. Therefore, Grandal’s defensive value is reinforced in the table below when DRS is considered:

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For 2018, Grandal may not have been in the top 10, but he was only a half run behind Sanchez, good for 11th out of all catchers. 

Offensively, Grandal’s wRC+ shows that he is one of the best offensive catchers in the game.

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Overall, the charts indicate to baseball analysts one thing: There is little difference between Realmuto and Grandal in terms of production. At least where offense is concerned, both stand as top five catchers who can showcase a little pop in their bat while adequately defending the plate.

Yet here we are near the end of January looking at a player unable to get a solid offer because his production warrants while the other languishes in Miami, unable to be moved because his current team is demanding a king’s ransom in any trade for him.

The National League Central clubs have aggressively made moves to improve this offseason. The Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt. The Reds made a flurry of trades to upgrade their pitching staff and their outfield. And now the Brewers turned one of their weaknesses into a strength.

As the Brewers enter the 2019 season, they find themselves in a position they rarely find themselves in. They will begin as the favorite to win the National League Central in 2019.

(All statistics and information originated from ESPN.com, Baseball-Reference.com, or FanGraphs.com, unless otherwise noted.)




Edited by Brian Kang.

SQuiz
Who drafted Yasmani Grandal?
Created 1/23/19
  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Diego Padres
  3. Cincinnati Reds
  4. Los Angeles Angels

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