Age: November 8, 1988 (29)
Traditional Stats: .241/.349/.466, 23 2B, 2 3B, 24 HR, 68 RBI, 2 SB, 1 CS
Advanced Stats: 3.3 bWAR, 3.6 fWAR, 121 OPS+, 125 wRC+
Defensive Stats: 9 DRS, 28% caught stealing rate
Yasmani Grandal headlines the free agent catchers this off-season, and for good reason.
The soon to be 30-year-old backstop appeared in 140 regular season games in 2018 (a career high), and it was the third-straight year he’s played in at least 126 games.
A combination of power at the plate and a strong defensive acumen, Grandal hit over 20 homers for the third-straight year (24 in 2018) and ranked second among catchers in Baseball Prospectus’ framing metric.
When comparing his stats to qualified catchers in 2018, Grandal’s stock continues to rise. He hit the second-most home runs behind only Salvador Perez (27), posted the highest isolated power (.225) and on-base percentage (.349), along with the second-best wRC+ (125) behind only J.T. Realmuto.
Grandal is a switch-hitter, though he tends to hit right-handed pitching at a much higher clip. His splits in 2018 were .252/.351/.492 with 20 homers against right-handers, and .206/.344/.383 with four homers against lefties. That seemingly falls right in line with his career splits, where he’s had more success batting left-handed (.797 vs. RHP as LHB, .728 vs. LHP as RHB).
Narrowing down his defensive play, Grandal started 110 games at catcher this year, while appearing in 135 total games behind the plate. He’s been the starting catcher in at least 106 games over the last three seasons, and has appeared in at least 115 total games at catcher in that span.
To find the last Mets catcher who appeared in at least 115 games behind the plate for three or more straight seasons one would need to go back to the glory years of Mike Piazza (1999-02).
Grandal has recorded 39 defensive runs saved (DRS) since 2016, which leads all catchers in that span. Factoring in the offensive production at such a demanding position, Grandal stands out among free agent catching brethren this off-season (which includes Wilson Ramos, Devin Mesoraco, Kurt Suzuki, and Matt Wieters).
One detraction to take note of when it comes to Grandal is his propensity for allowing the passed ball. He recorded the second-most passed balls among National League catchers in 2018 with nine, which was seven less than his league leading 16 in 2017.
Those numbers came back into the limelight when he allowed two passed balls in Game One of the National League Championship Series Friday night against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Grandal will definitely secure a multiyear deal from a club, as his production at a premium position remains high.
Looking at a reasonable comparison for Grandal is Russell Martin of the Toronto Blue Jays, who signed for $82 million over a five-year deal in 2014, and Brian McCann with the New York Yankees, who signed for five-years and $85 million in 2013.
Like Grandal, McCann was entering his age-30 season when he signed his mega-deal, and Martin was two years older at 32.
Here’s how the three stack up offensively in their four previous seasons before hitting free agency:
Martin: 496 G, .240/.340/.403, 65 HR, 240 RBI, 105 OPS+.
McCann: 494 G, .257/.342/.444, 85 HR, 272 RBI, 113 OPS+.
Grandal: 510 G, .238/.337/.453, 89 HR, 245 RBI, 113 OPS+.
Of course, McCann and Martin inked their deals several years ago and if last off-season is any indication we might be witnessing a suppression of long-term deals for players over the age of 30.
With that being said, Grandal should have no issue finding a team in need of his services, as there are a multitude of teams (Mets, Angels, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Nationals, Braves, Red Sox) who will be in need of catching upgrades this off-season. We could certainly see a bidding war ensue with some of the larger market teams involved in the hunt.
When the negotiations and terms are finalized, I fully except Grandal to receive a minimum of four years with an average annual salary of around $13-16 million.
With another injury-riddled season from Travis d’Arnaud, who underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this year, I believe it’s time for the Mets to move on and non-tender him. MLB Trade Rumors recently released their projected arbitration salaries for 2019, and the site lists d’Arnaud at $3.7 million. That money would be better spent addressing the several needs the club has, including finding a catcher who offers some clarity in production and health.
Grandal certainly fits the bill for what the Mets should be looking for in catcher; a position in which the Mets finished 25th out of all 30 major league teams in fWAR last season (0.4).
While Grandal would be a solid move and a sign that the club intends to put a greater emphasis on improving their offense while continuing to place a premium on pitch framing, one issue that arises is the qualifying offer.
Grandal is likely to be offered a qualifying offer by the Dodgers this off-season (reported to be $17.9 million this year). If he should decline, and he were to sign with the Mets, the club would lose its second-highest selection in the following year’s Draft as well as $500,000 from its international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period.
Considering the loss of a pick and international bonus pool money, the multiyear commitment and dollars it would take to secure his services, and the other potential suitors out there, I don’t envision the Mets being the last team standing in a bidding war for Grandal.
Instead, I could see the club looking at a guy like Wilson Ramos, who has battled injuries in the past but won’t need such a lofty investment both in years and dollars, and won’t require the loss of a draft pick or international bonus pool money, to pair with Kevin Plawecki.
The Mets reportedly were in talks with the Tampa Bay Rays about trading for Ramos before acquiring Devin Mesoraco from Cincinnati for Matt Harvey.
Whichever avenue the Mets decide to turn, catching remains a top priority for the club this off-season.