In an era when most MLB players are aiming for contractual longevity over average annual value, Yasmani Grandal is using the latter to leverage the former—and it could be the very reason he ends up back in Milwaukee.
Just under a year removed from spurning a four-year, $60M offer from the Mets and fresh off a 1-year, $18.25M deal with the Brewers, Grandal is back on the market with greater demand than ever. And despite declining his 2020 mutual option with Milwaukee, it seems there are more than enough reasons for the two to have a potential reunion, this time on longer terms.
2019 demonstrated that the move was clearly beneficial for all parties involved. Milwaukee, whose window is now open, got some of the best production out of the position since Jonathan Lucroy’s All-Star years. Grandal got to play in a lineup and ballpark that helped him post the best numbers of his career almost universally—including walks (109), hits (126), home runs (28), RBI (77), all while slashing a career best .246/.380/.468. He even managed to swipe five bags last season.
Given what Grandal turned down just last year before boosting his value further yet, it should be no surprise that the newly 31-year-old is seeking a three- or four-year deal and could command an AAV beyond the $18M mutual option he just declined.
For what seems like the first time in the last decade since Ryan Braun, if not longer, the Brewers can not only afford to make such an offer but would be 100% justified in doing so (unlike some of the bad-faith, mid- to long-term contracts of Melvin- or Dean Taylor-esque infamy). And there are plenty of good reasons beyond simply filling a positional need that should compel the Brewers to push the limits of their pursuit.
Offensively, the advantage is obvious. While Manny Piña’s cannon behind the plate is undeniable, there’s a clear drop-off between someone pushing 30 home runs a season and one who hasn’t hit that many in four years of Major League service time—and that’s not to mention the runs, RBI, or plain old consistency. Defensively, outside of his notorious propensity for passed balls, his pitch-framing skills are elite and he cuts down runners at an above-average clip (26%).
Beyond overt ability, Grandal offers two huge benefits the Brewers will be looking to take advantage of: positional versatility and veteran presence.
The former of those two needs was further cemented just last week, as the team surprisingly declined Eric Thames’ reasonable $7.5M club option, an indication that they may have their eyes set elsewhere, especially since they now have no true internal candidates queued up for the position. And while Grandal hadn’t played more than six games at first since his time with the San Diego Padres, he still manned the position respectably enough in 2019 and would likely be asked to handle more than 2019’s 20 appearances if for no other reason than to keep his bat in the lineup.
As important as versatility is, the fact is that the Brewers will undoubtedly need to lean on his experience if they really want to get the most out of their young, largely ill-defined pitching staff.
While many of their promising young arms like Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta struggled last season, Grandal helped others like Brandon Woodruff and Adrian Houser gain a strong foothold in the majors. Realistically, even if the club is clearing salary space for a starter, there are still more minor leaguers waiting in the wings that will need some guidance once they finally arrive, making a veteran, familiar backstop’s experience that much more valuable.
With that said, just because he checks the Brewers’ boxes doesn’t necessitate a deal. On the surface, there will seemingly be plenty of competition on the market between recent contenders and clubs on the rise who either have a hole to fill or cash to spend. The Braves, Rays and Mets are in a similar spot to the Brewers. The White Sox and Reds are also growing young clubs and will likely be ascending within Grandal’s three- to four-year window. The Nationals are already looking at re-inking significant talent in clubhouse stalwarts Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg to sustain their success and would have no trouble offering incentives, even if it means moving $6M Kurt Suzuki to a backup role. And plenty more teams have the capital to spend on a position with such a considerable drop-off from the top tier.
But although the demand for Grandal’s services may be high—and justifiably so given his skill set—it may be tempered by an economic landscape that demonstrates win-now types already have their guys while ascendant teams may yet be too far away to make an investment on a 31-year-old backstop, all of which seems to make the picture at least conceivably clearer.
The Astros already have over $200M on their 2020 books and are facing serious penalties after claims of sign stealing. The Red Sox have a limited payroll and Christian Vazquez. The Cubs have limited payroll and, for the time being, Willson Contreras. Tampa Bay hasn’t paid anyone, including Mr. Ray himself, Evan Longoria, more than Charlie Morton‘s $15M in 2019, in at least a decade. The Mets have at least another year of Wilson Ramos; the Nationals, Suzuki. The Cardinals have Yadier Molina. The Yankees have Gary Sanchez. The Braves have Tyler Flowers. The Angels and Giants don’t know if they’re going up or down. A return to the Dodgers is unlikely. The remaining options can be split between a few tire fires and some believable yet seemingly marginal options like either team from Ohio.
The point? What looks like a viable market full of those who either need or can afford Grandal is actually nearly devoid of any teams who exhibit both—and as the Hot Stove progresses, the center of the Venn diagram will certainly be shrinking.
But the greatest advantage the Brewers can offer has little to do with what they’re willing to pay or what they need and everything to do with what Grandal’s market will look like once he enters free agency again in a few years.
Given what happened in 2019, the Brewers are not only primed to match most offers, but give him a platform in which he may continue to post top-notch stats for the position. While plenty of teams could surround him with skilled players, not every team can offer the potential of being protection for and protected by a player on the verge of back-to-back MVP seasons, as well as a ballpark that boasts some of the kindest outfield walls in all of Baseball.
If Grandal is looking to sustain the kind of AAV he’s currently shopping for in the future, let alone the potential for a pennant and a ring, there’s really no better place to do it than Miller Park.
Jonathan Powell is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.