Alternate title: Why I Wouldn’t Trade Yasmani Grandal, Unless Some Team Blew Me Out of the Water
Yesterday, Buster Olney via Twitter:
Other teams say the Padres have gotten more aggressive in marketing catcher Yasmani Grandal in trade discussions.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 1, 2014
Trading Grandal might make sense if you view him as an offensive disappointment, a defensive liability, and a player who resides at a position where the Padres have a surplus of talent. However, if you view Grandal in another light, as a young, controllable player who, in a perceived down year, posted the 11th-highest wRC+ among catchers (with 300-plus PAs) last year, as an expert pitch framer with potential to improve other aspects of his defensive game, and as a player with trade value that likely significantly undershoots his actual on-field value, then trading Grandal doesn’t make much sense at all.
The Padres have what appears to be a surplus at the catching position, as Grandal is flanked by defensive specialist Rene Rivera, who last year slightly out-hit Grandal, and super prospect — though to this point offensively limited — Austin Hedges. The looming question(s): does it make sense for the Padres to deal one of their catchers to patch a hole at another position, and if so, which one should be traded?
First off, Hedges. He might be the best defensively of the three, he’s just 22 years old, and he’s coming off a year where he hit just .225/.268/.321 in Double-A. In other words, he’s still got a chance to be really good, as the bat has plenty of time to catch up to the glove, but his trade value is likely trending down. Makes sense to hold him.
Rivera is a former journeyman catcher who has appeared to have found a home in San Diego. He’s both an excellent pitch framer and catch-and-throw guy, and most pitchers rave about his game-calling ability. He’s also coming off a year where he, out of nowhere, hit .252/.319/.432 and paced the Padres with 3.0 WAR (and that’s without including his plus-plus framing ability).
At the same time, he’s now 31 years old, coming off a career year, and likely to return to a defense-first, no-bat catcher as soon as April 1st, 2015. If you can sucker a team into believing he’s something more than that, he makes sense as a trade candidate. Otherwise, he’s perfectly capable as a guy to have around to platoon at catcher and work with Grandal and the pitchers, until he either wears out his welcome with sub-.600 OPSes or Austin Hedges emerges.
Then there’s Grandal, and some reasons why I wouldn’t trade him:
He’s young, controllable, really good
Grandal just turned 26 years old and he doesn’t become arbitration-eligible until the 2016 season, meaning the Padres control him for four more years. He’ll likely make somewhere near the $792,000 he made last year in 2015, then, provided he doesn’t completely breakout and put up great offensive numbers, have three years of reasonable arbitration salaries.
Look, we’ve discussed Grandal plenty around these parts, so we don’t need to go too deep into how good we think he is. But consider Steamer’s wRC+ projections for 2015, which peg Grandal as the 13th-best offensive catcher in the major leagues. And that’s before you consider that Carlos Santana and Joe Mauer are no longer catchers — once you remove them, Grandal enters the running for the second-best hitting catcher in the big leagues, clearly behind only Buster Posey. Here’s the top 10, with Mauer and Santana removed:
|2015 Steamer wRC+ Projection|
Grandal is essentially the offensive equivalent to Russell Martin and Brian McCann, both of whom have recently signed five-year free agent contracts in the $80-85 million range. Just for hicks, here’s a short list of catchers that Grandal projects to be better than offensively in 2015: Wilson Ramos, Devin Mesoraco, Wilin Rosario, Salvador Perez, Matt Wieters, Evan Gattis, Carlos Ruiz …
And that’s before we discuss pitch framing, where Grandal also rates as one of the best backstops in the game. From the last article I wrote about him:
By any metric, Grandal rates as well above average. Baseball Prospectus had him at +12.6 runs last year (13th overall) and StatCorner rated him at +12.8 runs (eighth in the majors). On a per-pitch basis, he only gets better, as BPs numbers rated him sixth overall among catchers with at least 5,000 opportunities in 2014.
So, roughly estimating, how much surplus value does Grandal have? Here’s a stab:
|WAR||Free Agent Value||Actual Cost||Surplus Value|
You can certainly quibble with my estimates — maybe I’m a little aggressive with that WAR projection, though remember, most WAR projections don’t include pitch framing. And I usually use the 40-60-80 rule for estimating arbitration salary levels, but I just can’t see Grandal getting the market rate in arbitration, considering he’s a position player in Petco that derives a good chunk of his value out of framing pitches. Either way, you can tinker with the numbers; maybe it’s $30 million, or maybe it’s $80 million. I’ve got ~$54 million, with the assumptions/estimates I’ve used here.
The point: Grandal is a really good player, with the potential to be a great player. And he’s under control for four years, at a reasonable price. He’s really valuable and, if traded, should command a hefty return.
This falls under a sub-category of “he’s really good,” but consider these five factors Eno Sarris outlined for a potential Grandal breakout next year (hat tip: Ivan Padre):
- He has a pedigree as a former top prospect.
- He has spent a couple of years honing his receiving and is finally starting.
- His plate discipline stats are good.
- His batted ball luck is not good to date.
- His minor league stats suggest more power is coming.
Furthering the breakout support (and falling in as a sub-category for Sarris’ No. 5 above), Grandal’s average fly ball distance, according to Baseball Heat Maps, was eighth in the majors last year. Here’s a graph of all of Grandal’s fly balls/home runs:
And here’s the top 10 list in average fly ball distance last year, along with each player’s 2014 and career HR/FB rate:
|2014 Fly Ball Distance||2014 Home Run/Fly Ball||Career Home Run/Fly Ball|
|315.08 feet||19.4 percent||
I’m not sure entirely what to make of that list, but it looks like Grandal is in pretty good company. If he keeps hitting fly balls long distances, there’s a good chance he’ll rack up a few more home runs.
The thing about a trade is that you’re not just trading the player, you’re trading the perception of that player; his market value. Grandal, once a top prospect, is coming off major knee surgery, a PED suspension, and a 2013-’14 batting line of .224/.332/.389. He’s caught just 11.8 percent of would-be base thieves since 2013 and last year he allowed a league-leading 12 passed balls and, at various points, surrendered the everyday catching gig to journeyman Rivera. If you sort of gloss over the fact that he’s hitting at Petco (half his games), he’s a great pitch framer, and he has plenty of offensive upside, he looks like a light-hitting future first base convert.
Teams are smart, in general, and most of them probably view him as something more than that. But little things can often change the perception of a player, even for baseball insiders. Grandal’s skills haven’t necessarily translated into the loud, obvious performance that can drum up one’s trade value. In short, it’s hard to imagine the Padres would be able to pry $50-plus million in surplus value away from a team in return for Grandal.
In a perfect world, players should be dealt when their perceived value is higher than their actual on-field value. When, for instance, a pitcher posts a ridiculously high win-loss record or a sub-3.00 ERA on the strength of an unsustainably low BABiP (or pitching in Petco). Or when a hitter posts an out-of-character BABiP, or HR/FB rate, or simply plays over his head for a 162 game stretch (or hits in Coors Field).
Without getting too much into what their recent trade says about “the culmination of 800 million years of multi-cellular evolution,” at least the A’s can say they dealt Josh Donaldson when his value was sky-high. He’s coming off two straight 7-plus WAR seasons (per Baseball Reference) and just by regression and aging alone, it’s unlikely he’ll repeat that level of performance into his thirties.
When I said yesterday on Twitter that Grandal was the last player on the 40-man roster I’d want to trade, it wasn’t necessarily because he’s the best player on the 40-man roster. (He might be, but that’s a different argument.) It’s because, in my quick calculus, Grandal has the biggest disparity between perceived value and on-field value, making it tough to extract fair value out of a potential trading partner.
Of course, Grandal isn’t untouchable, and all it takes is one team to overpay — or fairly pay — to make dealing him something that might make sense. Maybe it’s the Cubs, who are apparently interested in adding a catcher and have a glut of middle infielders to deal from. Maybe a deal starts with Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who is signed through 2019 (with a 2020 option) for the all-too-reasonable price of $44 million. (For what it’s worth, pegging Castro as a 3.0 WAR player and quickly running him through the surplus value calculation, I came up with $66 million in surplus value for the length of his contract, not including the option. So Castro and Grandal are relatively close, and with a prospect added in from the Padres, it’s the kind of deal that might make sense.)
But that’s the kind of deal it’s going to take to make moving Grandal a wise decision. By picking up an up-the-middle talent with an extremely team-friendly deal in exchange for Grandal, the Padres would at least be potentially improving the team overall, if you believe in Rivera and/or Hedges. If they deal him for a lesser package, they’re simply treading water or — more likely — making things worse.
So, in this author’s opinion, you trade Grandal (maybe) if the package nets you an elite, up-the-middle talent, but otherwise you hold onto him and play out the catcher log-jam year-by-year, figuring things will sort themselves out in time. There’s no reason to deal Grandal unless the Padres can get fair value, at least, in return.