WARNE: Twins Should Target Yasmani Grandal This Offseason

Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret this year hasn’t gone as planned for the Minnesota Twins.

It’s also no secret that the Twins — who look drastically different than they did even a week ago — will see significant turnover this offseason on the roster.

Not only were traded players Eduardo Escobar, Brian Dozier, Lance Lynn and Zach Duke slated to become free agents in the offseason, but so too are Joe Mauer and possibly also Ervin Santana. The upshot here is that the Twins, who had a franchise-high $128.7 million payroll to start the season according to Cot’s Contracts, have just $31.7 million hard committed to next year’s team.

Here’s the breakdown of those commitments:

  • $8.375 million to Addison Reed
  • $8 million to Michael Pineda and Jason Castro
  • $1.25 million in possible buyouts to Fernando Rodney and Logan Morrison
  • $5.95 million in dead money owed to Phil Hughes

Now that number will obviously jump with guys like Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Ehire Adrianza, Robbie Grossman and Trevor May eligible for arbitration again as well as first-timers Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Byron Buxton, and there’ll be guys making the MLB minimum that’ll factor in as well, but the overarching theme is that the Twins are going to have some money to work with.

It’s also coming at a truly great time; this is going to be one of the best free-agent markets in recent memory. Superstars available include Manny Machado and Bryce Harper but there are also players across a number of other spectrums that will improve whichever team they sign with.

Clayton Kershaw and David Price can opt out of their deals — though both have had their issues in recent years — and Josh Donaldson also still carries some name value. All three could be big targets for most of the league if they hit the open market. Charlie Morton, Nelson Cruz and Jed Lowrie are having great seasons in their mid-30s, and could make for good bridge guys for teams waiting on prospects.

Marwin Gonzalez is a Swiss Army Knife who can hit a bit, Elvis Andrus can opt out of his deal and there are lots of players who’ll be looking for short deals to bounce back, like Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, Daniel Murphy, Jonathan Lucroy, Neil Walker and even Lynn, Morrison and Dozier as well.

Nobody would argue that it would be terrific to see the Twins land Harper or Machado. But at the cost of $30 million plus per year on what’ll likely be a deal with an opt-out in a few years — extremely player friendly, a la Jason Heyward — the odds just aren’t in favor of this happening.

That’s before considering if that player would come to Minnesota — even if the Twins were the highest bidder.

It’s also worth noting that both players would chew up a large part of the financial flexibility the team would likely wish to have as some of its youngsters move into their more expensive seasons. Not only that, but it’s not like the Twins really have an outfield spot or a lack of depth at shortstop in the years to come.

Don’t mistake that for someone saying “CAN’T SIGN MACHADO BECAUSE ROYCE LEWIS IS A-COMIN’” or anything to that effect, but it certainly is a consideration.

But that’s why I’m coming out and endorsing the following like a politician endorsing a colleague:

The Minnesota Twins should make Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal their No. 1 free agency target — with a bullet — this offseason.

Aug 2, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Pedro Baez (52) celebrates with catcher Yasmani Grandal (9) after the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 21-5 at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

There was considerable blowback when I tweeted this, but let’s just dive into the reasons why he makes a lot of sense.

  1. The cupboard is fairly bare for the Twins at catcher in the minor leagues.

The only catching prospect on the team’s top-30 prospect list is Ben Rortvedt (No. 24), and he’s neither close to the big leagues (High-A Fort Myers) nor has he shown much with the bat (.632 MiLB OPS in three seasons. The Twins also spent a second-round pick this year on Ryan Jeffers out of UNC-Wilmington, and while he’s hit the ground running with a .391/.503/.587 line through 37 pro games, there’s still no guarantee he’ll be able to stick behind the plate.   

Beyond that, there isn’t much. There are some guys with backup-type toolsets, but nothing stands out.

  1. Grandal is a terrific offensive catcher.

Here’s something people might not know about Grandal: Every year of his seven-year career has resulted in a wRC+ of 100 or better. He’s a career .243/.342/.446 hitter (118 wRC+), and he’s stepped it up considerably this season, hitting .263/.363/.510 in 92 games with 19 homers and a 138 wRC+.

While that on the surface is impressive — 38 percent above the league-average mark is always impressive — consider what he’s doing relative to other catchers:

  • Grandal – 138 wRC+
  • AL average catcher this year – 81 wRC+
  • NL average catcher this year – 89 wRC+

What it all comes down to is that the average MLB catcher is hitting .234/.306/.377 — Jason Castro,,,,hello — which is good for an 85 wRC+. Grandal is nearly 50 percent above his average contemporary behind the plate.  

He takes walks (12.9 percent career), doesn’t strike out too much (23.4 percent) and has significant pop (.203 isolated slugging).

  1. Grandal is a terrific defensive catcher.

Fangraphs has rated his career as 30.8 runs above average on offense, and even better (32.1 runs above average) defensively. StatCorner rates him as the No. 1 pitch framer this year — 12.8 runs above average — and Baseball Prospectus more or less agrees. They have him as the No. 2 guy behind Houston’s Max Stassi and tied with Philadelphia’s Jorge Alfaro at 9.3 runs above average.  

Baseball Prospectus also rates Grandal ninth — out of 101 catchers — in blocking runs with 1.0. Castro and Bobby Wilson are right behind him at 0.9 and 0.8, respectively. Mitch Garver is 69th at minus-0.2. Garver is ranked as the No. 92 framer (minus-4.8 runs) while Wilson is 26th (1.2).

How’s this for a kick in the teeth? Fourth on the list? John Ryan Murphy with 8.0 framing runs.

  1. Grandal will only be 30 this winter and all next season.

The argument might be in favor of going young behind the plate — or even not committing a bunch of years and money to a guy who won’t catch a pitch donning your uniform before the age of 30 — but think of it this way: catchers these days are brought along slowly. The Twins don’t have time to trade significant assets for an early 20-something catcher to then go through growing pains with him.

It’s time to win; it’s time to win now, and grabbing a ready-made star catcher who doesn’t have much in the way of weaknesses is the way to go.

  1. Have you looked at the catching market this offseason and next?

The rest of the catching market this offseason is as follows, via MLB Trade Rumors (with age in parentheses, asterisk denotes player has contract option):

  • Drew Butera (35)
  • Robinson Chirinos (35)*
  • A.J. Ellis (38)
  • Tyler Flowers (33)
  • Nick Hundley (35)
  • Lucroy (33)
  • Martin Maldonado (32)
  • Jeff Mathis (36)
  • McCann (35)*
  • Devin Mesoraco (31)
  • Miguel Montero (35)
  • Wilson Ramos (31)
  • Rene Rivera  (35)
  • Kurt Suzuki (35)
  • Matt Wieters (33)

Yeesh. It gets worse. Here’s a look at the market for next offseason, according to Spotrac.

  • McCann (36)
  • Russell Martin (37)
  • Francisco Cervelli (34)
  • Castro (33)
  • Alex Avila (33)
  • Chirinos (36)
  • Austin Romine (31)
  • Ryan Lavarnway (32)
  • Bryan Holaday (32)
  • J.C. Boscan (40)
  • Travis d’Arnaud (31)
  • Chris Herrmann (32)
  • Adrian Nieto (30)
  • Tim Federowicz (33)
  • Stephen Vogt (35)

Sure, Castro has one more year on his deal and the Twins have Garver’s rights until after the 2023 season. But Castro is coming off a significant knee injury and even if he returns to form isn’t the answer past next year.

Garver has done a nice job offensively especially of late and overall this season (105 OPS+), but has a long way to go defensively to even be considered a full-time catching option on a team with playoff aspirations. There’s a reason why Wilson — in the midst of hitting just .167/.224/.254 in his age-35 season — has siphoned playing time away from him more than fans might have liked to this point.

So what would it take to get the deal done? Hang with me here, and I’m certainly spitballing, but probably something like this:

Five years, $90 million

Pull off the sticker from the shock and listen for a second. Martin signed a five-year deal with the Blue Jays for $82 million. Back in the winter prior to the 2013 season, Brian McCann signed a five-year deal with the New York Yankees for $85 million.

Bake in a little inflation and voila, we’re in the $90 million vicinity.

But how good was McCann, really? Well as some might remember, he was the catcher most often brought up when people wondered who was challenging Joe Mauer for the title of best catcher in the game.

In fact, Martin’s name was brought up at times as well.

But Grandal isn’t as good as McCann was, is he? Well, funny you asked:

  • Grandal: 116 career OPS+
  • McCann up until he signed with the Yankees: 117 OPS+

It’s tempting to compare WAR for each player, but McCann had played 1,100 games to that point. By the time Grandal hits free agency, he’ll be in the vicinity of 700. That probably actually works in Grandal’s favor when considering the potential mileage on his knees.

But five years is a long time. Let’s look at how the deals signed by each of those catchers have panned out to this point via Fangraphs’ valuations:

  • McCann – $85 million deal, $67.3 million value
  • Martin – $82 million deal, $61.9 million value

This is probably the best argument for not making a deal, but even still it’s not that compelling. For one, this is based on WAR, something we aren’t totally certain totally has a great grasp on the true value of a good catcher. If anything, it’s underestimated.

Secondly, while both declines were fairly by the book as far as aging curves, McCann was still moved by the Yankees during the deal for a pair of pitchers who are top-100 prospects in Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman. His value has also been hurt by the fact that he’s only played 147 games over the past two seasons.

Now it should be noted that both seasons have seen McCann miss time with knee issues, and that absolutely has to be baked into the equation of such a long-term deal. If Grandal will sign a shorter deal with a larger AAV — four years, $80 million — that should absolutely be a consideration.

As for Martin’s case, he’s remained a little more healthy than McCann — 162 games since Opening Day 2017 — but the time he missed was due to an oblique issue. That issue can happen to anyone at any position.

And to the point where Martin has been a little further off from fulfilling the value of his contract, consider that he was heading into his age-31 season — one year ahead of Grandal — and that his offensive baseline (103 OPS+) was significantly lower than Grandal’s when he hit free agency.

The choice is simple:

The Twins should sign Yasmani Grandal before moving onto figuring out what the rest of the team will look like heading into 2019.   

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