On the surface, it appears a simple positional upgrade. In reality, it seems Yasmani Grandal’s purpose has a chance to be much, much greater.
If echoes of chants for more still hung in Milwaukee’s front office after the slow start to the Hot Stove, GM David Stearns not only heard them, but heeded their call, inking Grandal to a one-year deal for $18 million Wednesday night.
While Grandal’s image to Brewers fans might be marred by his most recent efforts in Milwaukee, namely providing more runs from behind the plate than he saved in the postseason, the seven-year veteran is an absolute stalwart behind the plate.
Outside of his propensity for passed balls, which is certainly still a factor, Grandal has very few defensive weaknesses. He may not cut down runners at the same clip as Pina (41%) — then again, only three MLB catchers did in 2018 — but he’s still above league average at just under 30% and happens to the be absolute best in the league in pitch framing and range.
What’s more, is that Grandal can provide key insight to weaknesses that usually aren’t so easily addressed by a single transaction: batting lines against. In 2018, the Brewers largely struggled against Dodgers pitching (.235/.293/.374, one of their worst against any team), which may be the reason they fell one game short of the Fall Classic, but now have the pinnacle behind the plate to key them into one of their greatest National League foes.
Against the three top pitchers that held them to a single run in Game 7 of the NLCS, the team slashed .209/.267/.385 against Clayton Kershaw, .200/.200/.240 against Walker Buehler and .143/.250/.429 against Kenley Jansen.
But Grandal can also give them a leg up on their division foes as well. When facing Alex Wood, who now resides in the NL Central with the Cincinnati Reds and is poised to become a regular opponent, they slashed just .208/.296/.208 — a stark contrast, small sample size notwithstanding, to what they did to the rest of Reds pitching.
Of course, even if Grandal was weaker at the position, which he certainly isn’t in most categories, his bat will play all day in the hitter-friendly confines of Miller Park.
If it’s not enough that his career 162-game average is a solid .240/.341/.441, he eclipsed it all just last year, slashing .241/.349/.466 while adding 24 home runs, 61 RBI and a pair of stolen bases while spending most of his season in the legendarily-cavernous Dodger Stadium. (It should be noted his career has entirely been in San Diego and Los Angeles and in the spacious NL West.) His on-base percentage is actually the best at the position amongst qualifiers and places him second overall in OPS — it doesn’t hurt that he’s only a few years removed from an All-Star season and being top-25 in MVP voting, either.
What’s more, despite being on a one-year deal, he offers more advantages than the current slate behind the plate. He’s younger than Manny Piña and yet also has more experience. He’s started no less than 115 games in the last five years and averages 127. He’s also considerably more patient at the plate than both Piña and local folk legend Erik Kratz, and what’s more, also maintains consistency in higher leverage situations (.238/.366/.381 RISP).
In the bigger picture, he provides a low-risk stopgap at the position until the team can fully gauge top catching prospect Jacob Nottingham, who still, despite clear growth, has strides to make on both sides of the plate after showing some inconsistency and suffering injuries over the last two seasons.
Even though the deal is mutually beneficial, it’s certainly limited. Regardless of Nottingham’s progress, there’s little chance Milwaukee would be able to re-sign Grandal should he break out during his prove-it deal.
If there’s one thing the deal proves, however, is that David Stearns will do everything it takes to maximize the window the team opened just last year. Even on a limited budget, he’s still not afraid to make a high-impact free agent upgrade one of the best-paid players on the team in 2019. And while that leaves a bit of uncertainty in the future, it certainly warms and sweetens the breeze coming through that window this upcoming season.
Jonathan Powell is a co-founder of and lead writer for Bronx to Bushville. Brent Sirvio contributed to this post.