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Offseason Target: Yasmani Grandal

Forget Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, The team should go after Grandal.

MLB: World Series-Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

When looking at the position player side of the roster of the reigning World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, it can be hard to spot an area of true weakness. You can nitpick about the consistency of the bat of Gold Glove winner Jackie Bradley Jr., you can wish for more consistency at first base, harp on Rafael Devers’ defense at the hot corner, or remain skeptical of Dustin Pedroia’s health at the keystone. Those are all legitimate concerns and areas where the team could potentially improve. I would argue though, that above all the easiest-to-improve area on the club is at catcher.

Enter: Yasmani Grandal. Remember the playoffs? Remember the passed balls? What on Earth am I suggesting?! Yeah, those moments were not his best, but don’t let this overshadow the fact that Grandal has been one of the best and most consistent backstops in baseball over the last 4+ seasons. If you start by looking at his offense, his biggest area of upgrade over the Red Sox current group of Sandy Leon, Blake Swihart, and Christian Vazquez, you’ll notice that he has hit the second most home runs since 2015 at the catcher position behind only Salvador Perez. He is also top five in both runs and RBI and is top three in fWAR and wRC+.

Yasmani Grandal

Yasmani Grandal Stats GP HR Runs RBI wRC+ Slash Line fWAR
Yasmani Grandal Stats GP HR Runs RBI wRC+ Slash Line fWAR
2015 115 16 43 47 116 .234/.353/.403 2.3
2016 126 27 49 72 121 .228/.339/.477 2.9
2017 129 22 50 58 102 .247/.308/.459 2.5
2018 140 24 65 68 125 .241/.349/.466 3.6

As the chart above shows, Grandal has been remarkably consistent over the last three seasons enjoying his best overall offensive season last year at the age of 29. Grandal swatted 24 home runs, played in 140 games, and posted his best ever mark in wRC+ at 125. All of this offensive performance was backed up by strong rate stats including great walk rate and a reduced strikeout rate. Early projection systems love what they have seen and expect more of the same in 2019 with Steamer projecting 22 HR, 62 R, 68 RBI, 114 wRC+, and a slash line of .237/.342/.443. From 2015-2018 Swihart had a wRC+ of 83 while Vazquez and Leon each sat at a pitiful mark of 66.

His receiving and framing skills are what really make the former Dodger all the more attractive. Baseball Prospectus is the go-to for framing statistics available to the public and last year Grandal rated first in baseball with 15.7 framing runs above average. This was not a one off event for him, either. In 2015 he ranked first, in 2016 he was second, and in 2017 he ranked fourth. Moreover, Grandal has proven to be an above average blocker and thrower over these seasons. When taken together in Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA_Adj, a version of their all-encompassing defensive stat for catcher, he has ranked first in 2015, second in 2016, fourth in 2017, and first in 2018.

The reason why I focused on his pitch framing and overall defensive prowess is because these are the strengths of the Red Sox catching unit. Porcello recently said about Sandy Leon “He’s the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to.” So how does Grandal compare to Leon and Vazquez in terms of framing? Last year Leon ranked as the seventh best overall framer in the game and Vazquez ranked as the twelfth best. In overall ranking Leon was seventh in FRAA-Adj while Vazquez finished 14th. Swihart ranked 40th and 38th respectively if you were wondering. Grandal is worlds better than each offensively and even better at handling the pitching staff and overall defense, at least in terms of measurable abilities. We still don’t have a way to quantify game-calling, to be fair.

Grandal is entering his age-30 season and should remain an effective player for years to come. As for how much it will cost to acquire someone of his talents, that is hard to determine, but I believe the recent contract of Brian McCann should provide us with some idea. McCann entered free agency at roughly the same age after the 2013 season. He was a slightly better player offensively and a slightly worse one defensively. McCann signed with the Yankees for five years and $85 million with the sixth year being a vesting option. Through the first four years of that deal, I don’t think anyone would complain about his performance, though last year McCann did fall victim to poor health failing to vest his 2019 option.

World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Boston Red Sox - Game One Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The market for free agents entering their age 30 season is undoubtedly different now that it was when McCann signed this deal back in 2014. It is a much more skeptical market far less willing to throw money at players of this age. With all that being said the Red Sox will likely not have to offer anything close to what McCann received with Kylie McDaniel of Fangraphs predicting three years at $39 million for Grandal. The Red Sox would then be able to decide who to keep among their glut of three catchers, I would probably choose Swihart due to his team control through 2022. They could find a trading partner for Leon and Vazquez with their relatively small financial commitments and excellent defensive skills.

The Red Sox will have plenty of competition should they decide to go down this route and look at Grandal with rival Houston being one team looking for a catcher. Nevertheless, making a strong offer is the right move in order to lengthen the lineup and solve the offensive woes at catcher while actually improving defensively. It isn’t Harper and it isn’t Machado, but it does make the team much better over the next few years of contention. Above all, it will only cost the Red Sox money to make this move.