Ken Rosenthal claimed that Grandal turned down a four-year, $60 million contract with the New York Mets earlier in the offseason. The former Dodger also turned down the one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer.
Grandal was the premier catching free agent this offseason. He had a difficult playoffs with the Dodgers, but he provided 3.3 bWAR in 2018 for the National League West franchise. It was widely expected that Grandal would receive a multi-year deal – Milwaukee have got themselves a bargain.
Grandal is an elite pitch framer. Since 2016, only Tyler Flowers has more strike zone runs saved than Grandal, per Sports Info Solutions. There is no doubt this aided the Dodgers pitching staff, which has been dominant over the last three seasons. Earning extra strikes is an undervalued skill – Grandal’s ability to do so is a big part of his value.
His blocking and arm rank around average around the majors, though he is a well-above average defensive catcher because of the impact his framing makes. His struggles in the postseason should not have made much difference to his free agency, but this one-year deal suggests it was playing on the mind of some front offices. Grandal was benched in the playoffs in 2017 and 2018, having struggled on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, do not let Grandal’s .241 2018 batting average fool you. He has a good eye, resulting in a 13.9% walk rate last season. His on-base percentage was a more than respectable .349. Only Wilson Ramos and J.T. Realmuto had a higher OPS among catchers. Over the last five seasons, Grandal is second only to Buster Posey in catcher OPS (for players with over 400 games).
OPS is a far from perfect stat, but it shows accomplished Grandal is at the plate. He is more effective from the left side, though, hitting 20 homers last year. His rest days for Milwaukee will likely come against left-handed starters, which is exactly what the Dodgers did throughout his career. He has had 2136 plate appearances against righty starters, compared to 524 against left-handers.
Catching duties were shared between Manny Pina and Erik Kratz at the Brewers last season. The pair combined for 1.2 bWAR, 1.1 of which was contributed by Pina. Both were well below league average hitters with 85 and 70 wRC+ respectively.
Milwaukee seemed most likely to add pitching and an infielder this winter. Grandal had been linked to plenty of teams around the league, but the Brewers were an outsider at best. He is an enormous upgrade on Pina and Kratz both offensively and defensively.
There’s little to lose on a one-year deal. Milwaukee took advantage of an underwhelming market for Grandal and landed one of baseball’s top five catchers for a bargain price.
Grandal makes the Brewers a lot better behind the plate and gives Milwaukee another left-handed middle of the order bat after Mike Moustakas departed in free agency. This is one of the best deals so far this winter.