The Dodgers catching situation is one of the biggest question marks this offseason. They sent Yasmani Grandal a $17.9 million qualifying offer last week, and he has until November 12 to accept or reject the qualifying offer and test free agency.
The Dodgers have catching prospects Will Smith, Keibert Ruiz and Diego Cartaya in the pipeline. All three are promising catching prospects. Smith is the closest to being ready to play at the major-league level. If he’s not ready right away, Grandal could be the stop gap for one more year until then.
I’ve always been a defender of Grandal, because it’s hard to find good catching. The talent pool of backstops in the majors is less than impressive. Despite his atrocious postseason, Grandal’s one of the top offensive catchers in baseball. He slashed .241/.349/.466/.815 with 24 home runs, he’s an elite pitch framer, and he has an above-average arm. It’s likely that Grandal will reject his QO to seek a multi-year deal as a free agent, something he shouldn’t find much difficulty getting despite his postseason struggles with the Dodgers.
Some feel that Grandal’s high-profile postseason problems, both at the plate and behind the plate, will affect his value in free agency. He’s hit .107/.264/.200/.464 with two home runs in 92 postseason plate appearances and nine playoff series since 2015. The Dodgers seem to always be waiting for Grandal to synch up with one of his hot streaks in October, but it hasn’t happened.
Austin Barnes took over the starting catching role during the last two postseason runs with the Dodgers, but his career .459 OPS in the postseason is even worse than Grandal’s numbers. You can argue that if Barnes had been more effective during the regular season (.205/.329/.290/.619), Grandal would be more rested down the stretch. Barnes’ slugging percentage plunged nearly 200 points.
The Dodgers had to start Grandal more when Barnes’ offense fell off a cliff, causing Grandal to start 111 games and appear in a career-high 140. He played 12 innings at first base and caught 1,037.1 frames, the first time he’s caught more than 1,000 innings in a season in his career.
That’s no excuse for Grandal’s defensive blunders and offensive drought last month, but it shouldn’t negate the fact that he remains a valuable catcher and one of the most productive since he began his career in 2012 with the San Diego Padres, posting a 115 OPS+ with 113 home runs. When you look at all the numbers, Grandal is still a top-five catcher in baseball.
Grandal has played in 125+ games in four of the five past seasons and is only behind Buster Posey in OPS by a catcher (.778) during that stretch.
It’s hard to know exactly what Grandal would command on the market, but a 3-year, $40 million deal isn’t out of the question per Jim Bowden. The last long-term deal for a catcher went to Salvador Perez who signed a five-year, $52.5 million contract extension with the Royals before the 2016 season. Grandal will likely surpass that in average annual pay.
If Grandal rejects his QO from the Dodgers, and they look to avoid inking Grandal to a multi-year deal that would span into his mid-30s, they could potentially look at a trade with the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto. Realmuto would cost a package of top prospects. He’s arbitration-eligible for the next two years and would be a shorter-term, cheaper upgrade.
I’m not sure what they would have to give up in a trade with Miami. The LA front office, to this point, has a history of retaining most of their top prospects. It’ll be interesting to see what the new GM will do.
Jim Bowden of The Athletic suggests that the Dodgers could get Realmuto for Alex Verdugo and Dustin May. The Dodgers would likely have to include a third player, but perhaps Miami could also throw in Adam Conley or Drew Steckenrider in a larger trade. I would rather not move Ruiz.
Realmuto is one of the most athletic catchers in baseball, but he’s also one of the worst pitch framers. Grandal’s 13.8 RAA (runs above average), per StatCorner, is far superior to Realmuto’s -15.2 RAA. That’s a glaring downgrade, affecting the pitching staff, and something to consider.
Here’s the complete list of catchers available in free agency:
That’s a pretty underwhelming group. Wilson Ramos has been great offensively, but he’s also got a year on Grandal and bad knees. The veteran backstop slashed .306/.358/.487/.845 with 15 home runs for Tampa Ray and Philadelphia. If you think Grandal is frustrating behind the plate at times, then you’re not going to want Ramos. He’s a below-average defender. His lengthy injury history and high price tag doesn’t make Ramos a good fit for the Dodgers. He wasn’t eligible for a QO, so any team that signs him wouldn’t have to forgo draft-pick compensation.
There’s also several other low-ceiling catching options such as Kurt Suzuki, A.J. Ellis, Nick Hundley, Martin Maldonado, or Devin Mesoraco. None of those aforementioned names, including old friend Ellis, are that desirable.
The Dodgers could go with a Barnes/Kyle Farmer duo until Smith is ready should Grandal reject his QO and they opt to avoid signing a catcher to a multi-year deal. But the Dodgers seem reluctant to let Farmer get behind the plate at the major league level and have played him into more of a corner infield guy.
They have Smith on the verge of making his MLB debut at some point soon and Ruiz behind him. Cartaya, the top international prospect the Dodgers signed in July out of Venezuela, is only 17-years old and is a few years out.
Grandal may have spurred boos from Dodgers fans this postseason, but his postseason problems shouldn’t erase the fact that he’s one of the reasons the Dodgers got as far as they did the last two seasons. It’s nice to a have a switch-hitting catcher who can hit for power, a rare commodity. Grandal’s relationship with the pitching staff and highly ranked pitch framing can’t be overlooked either since they are both skills valued by the front office.
Andrew Friedman values Grandal’s offense as a catcher.
“When you factor in the offensive bar at the position and just, I think, that position takes such a toll on your body, which is a big part of why the offensive bar isn’t extremely high,” Friedman said. “And he’s obviously significantly above that bar…The overall production and value is really high.”
If Barnes and Farmer are hitting .188 in May, perhaps Grandal’s contributions to the Dodgers will be looked at differently. Grandal led all MLB catchers with 24 home runs this season, and his 89 home runs in the past four seasons is third on the all-time home run leaders list among LA Dodgers catchers.
It may be an unpopular opinion right now, but Grandal/Barnes was arguably the best Dodgers catching duo in many years. Need I remind you of past backstops like Miguel Olivo, Ramon Hernandez, Rod Barajas, Dioner Navarro, Drew Butera, Hector Gimenez, Brad Ausmus, Danny Ardoin, Gary Bennett, Einar Diaz, Jason Phillips, or Mike Lieberthal?
Grandal’s streaky offense and horrendous postseason certainly didn’t make him one of the most popular players. Regardless of the sour sentiment, should he accept the QO, it wouldn’t be the worst case scenario considering the catching landscape right now and the Dodgers’ need to bridge the gap until their catching prospects are ready. It’s unlikely that he accepts the 1-year, $17.9 million QO, but the Dodgers will receive a draft pick in compensation should he reject it.
If Grandal chooses to test the free agent waters, it’ll be interesting to see what the Dodgers do about their catching conundrum.