Yasmani Grandal finally looks to be delivering on the promise he held when he was drafted 12th overall in the 2010 MLB Draft. He’s opened the 2018 season with a ridiculous .352/.435/.611 slash line in in 14 games. He’s driven in 13 runs and already been worth 1.0 fWAR. Had we penned this post a year ago right now, many in Dodgerland may have been ready to eschew the switch-hitting catcher. Now that he looks to be a valuable middle of the order hitter, his uncertain future in Los Angeles should be examined in greater detail.
In Grandal’s final season of arbitration after 2017, he agreed to a $7.9 million dollar deal with the Dodgers. This is the final year of his contract until he’s eligible for free agency. The Dodgers immediate options behind Grandal are Austin Barnes, and prospect Keibert Ruiz. Ruiz is hitting .233 in AA at the moment.
With just a small sample-size as our evidence, it seems a light has went on for Yasmani. This is what Dave Roberts recently had to say about his catcher that has assumed the lion’s share of playing time:
“When he gets impatient, gets out of the strike zone, it goes the other way. But when he’s stubborn in the strike zone, he’s as good as anybody and I think right now he’s seeing it really well, trying to square it up, not trying to do too much. And as a result, he’s taking walks and hitting the ball hard. And he’s getting rewarded. This is as locked in as I’ve seen him from spring training to right now.”
It’s not as if we can say we have seen this act from Grandal before. Year after year, I’ve waited for a Grandal breakout dating back to his years as a San Diego Padre. I felt like he was a guy who could hit 25 to 30 homers, hit over .280, reach base at a near .400 clip and slug over .500. He’s had elements of that in different seasons if you look at the back of his baseball card. But Grandal has never had a year where one has been able to say he’s put it all together.
Grandal hit three-hole on Wednesday night in the Dodgers’ 13-4 win over the Padres. He looked relaxed at the plate the entire series. His approach resulted in several multi-hit games and a five-RBI performance. In the absence of Justin Turner, he’s proving to be a reliable middle of the order bat. It’s safe to assume that Roberts pencil Grandal in the three spot of the order against right-handed pitching again. This shows that the manager is giving strong acknowledgement to his offensive presence and value.
Catchers who peak at age 29 don’t need to be the long-term plan. It’s a position that has largely become a year-to-year proposition for many clubs. You build depth as an organization in case an injury occurs. As a whole, you have two to three guys who can play at the big league level. If it gets beyond that, you’re throwing prospects into the fire before they’re ready. You’re trading assets for stopgap catchers on other teams who don’t hold a starting role. If Grandal can put together an All-Star caliber season, does he deserve a two or three year contract offer that takes him into his age-32 season?
This would give the Dodgers some peace of mind as they continue to develop Ruiz. Austin Barnes is a nice, versatile ballplayer. His value lies in the fact that he’s better than most back-up catchers around baseball. He’s fringe-starter material for many teams around baseball. But Barnes has only played in over 100 games once in his career, and there’s a good reason for that. He’s a player who you can catch lightning in a bottle with as displayed in 2017. His full body of work doesn’t suggest he’s ready to make Grandal an afterthought and assume the starting role. The organization seems to know this – giving Grandal the first bite at the apple to take the job and run with it. And run with it he has.
You have to respect a player who has been through the ringer like Grandal. He’s been traded twice, faced a PED suspension, and lost his starting job during 2018 posteason. I like the way he’s come into 2018 with a chip on his shoulder, letting his play speak for itself.
For the many things that have not gone the Dodgers way to begin the season, Grandal has been a counterbalance of the pendulum. If they can hold their head above water while Turner is on the shelf, he’s going to be an key reason why they did. It’s ironic that after several seasons of thoughts in my head that Grandal could lead the Dodgers in home runs – he might do it in the year that the thought was most distant from my mind. Everyone loves a good comeback. Grandal is on his way, but will it be his final run as a Dodger?
Grandal’s current contract makes him the second highest paid Dodgers catcher in team history. The first is a guy named Mike Piazza. If his hot start continues – he’s going to earn an even greater payday somewhere in the league. Teams are always looking to bolster their offense at a position that has become starved outside of a few players. With a prominent free agency class looming, and Clayton Kershaw’s contract up; the Dodgers will arrive at a crossroads with Grandal. If he finishes 2018 with a career year, is the smart play to extend him to the multi-year deal he will command? Or should the Dodgers gamble on Barnes and a youngster/veteran combo? They could do this with the though that 2018 was the best year Grandal is likely to have.
It’s your turn to play the GM. Your thoughts in the comments!
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