Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dodgers should look at the Padres' Yasmani Grandal to upgrade at catcher

I love A.J. Ellis. He's a good baseball player, a great interview and an even better person. There's no "but" here. Ellis is solid.

The fact of the matter is, he wore down pretty noticeably last season. I saw a game at the beginning of September in which he looked sluggish behind the dish. He allowed just six passed balls in 2013 (down from 11 in 2012), but was also "charged" with 45 wild pitches (up from 37 in '12).

Ellis, 33 in early April, has a lot of mileage on him. He's caught 2,691 1/3 innings in the majors. That isn't a lot, but he spent the better part of nine seasons in the minors and caught 515 games. It only makes sense that he'd wear down after a long season.

His 2012 campaign was fantastic. Ellis hit .270/.373/.414, hit 13 home runs and was worth nearly four wins. That's All-Star-level production. After a fast start in 2013 -- .304/.435/.446 in 17 games -- he hit just .228/.296/.350 in 98 games.

It might be time for the Dodgers to acquire a catcher to help take the load off -- a starting catcher, perhaps.

I was mulling this over in my head on Tuesday and had the perfect catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia. It was set up so beautifully. "Salty" absolutely crushes right-handed pitchers and is at least half-way...ish decent defensively. But then the Marlins went and signed him to an economical 3-year, $21 million deal. Saltalamacchia is from the Miami area, so that's the only way this signing makes sense.

So, in my quest to find another, I looked at Matt Wieters. It's been reported the Orioles would entertain moving the Gold Glove catcher with two years of team control remaining. Wieters is one of the best power-hitting catchers, but he doesn't walk a whole lot or hit for much average. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be upset if the Dodgers were to acquire him, but he isn't the guy for my liking.

Jared Massey suggested the Astros' Jason Castro as a possibility in episode 61 of 'Dugout Blues.' I really liked that idea, but he would require 130-plus games of playing time, which makes Ellis a true backup catcher. I'm not ready for Ellis to be solely a backup just yet.

The catcher I finally landed on is Yasmani Grandal.

Say wha?

Yes, the very same Grandal who was suspended for 50 games last winter after testing positive for testosterone. The very same Grandal who was acquired by the Padres in the Mat Latos deal.

Grandal, 25, has only played in 268 games between the minors and majors in his career. In 2012, he played in 60 games and was a 2.4-win player. In just 28 game last season, he was a 0.6-win player. He's been worth three wins in just more than a half-season. That's damn good. Steamer projects him to be a 1.8-win player in 65 games. With San Diego, he should be the team's starter, but it also has Nick Hundley, whom it signed to a 3-year deal before last season (with a fourth-year option).

In the last two seasons, Grandal is the 12th-best offensive catcher in baseball (according to weighted on-base average). He only has 224 plate appearances in those two years, so his long-term effectiveness is yet to be determined. In his only fullish minor-league season, he hit .307/.406/.502 against right-handed pitching (some of the aided by the hitter-friendly California League).

Grandal, a native of Cuba, has solid power potential with a .429 career slugging percentage and has performed better on the road (.859) than at the cavernous Petco Park (.759 OPS). But his most attractive offensive ability is his walk rate. Grandal has walked 14.7 percent of the time in his abbreviated career. In the minors, Grandal walked 13.6 percent of the time. That's elite walk-rate territory. That's better-than A.J. Ellis walk-rate territory.

This is from John Sickels (Minor Leagut Ball) on June 4, 2012, two days after his Major League debut.
"He's a very solid hitter, with good power and excellent strike zone judgment. He isn't likely to hit .300 at the major league level, but he should produce above-average numbers in the power and OBP departments. He's had few problems with professional pitching, maintaining his production at each level. His bat speed isn't superb, but his refined approach to hitting helps him adjust.

Owner of a solid defensive reputation in college, he had a few problems last year, giving up 19 passed balls and committing 13 errors in 90 games behind the plate. He has more than enough mobility and has strong leadership skills, and his reliability should improve with more experience. His arm is average but his release can be a little slow; he caught 34% of runners last year and 24% so far in 2012. Although not a spectacular defender at this point, he will certainly stick at catcher and basically just needs more experience ironing out his receiving."
If the Dodgers were to acquire Grandal, I could see a straight 81-81 split with Ellis, who has hit just slightly better against righties than lefties in his career (.729 to .721 OPS). The Dodgers have Tim Federowicz penciled in as Ellis' backup. If that's the case, the Dodgers will struggle offensively behind the plate again in 2014. More likely, Ellis would still get the lion's share of playing time, but I'd like to see his games-played cut to 100-110 games to make sure he's still effective in September and October. Grandal could take over that role as early as 2015, with Ellis battling Tim Wallach for the Dodger managerial job come 2017.

Yes, catcher isn't needed to be an offense-first position, but with third base still unresolved and the outfield (outside of Yasiel Puig) still in question, perhaps some offensive boost could come from a Grandal-Ellis combination.

There is something to be said for Ellis' rapport with the pitching staff -- something I'm sure Grandal could pick up on and develop going forward.

It'd take a little bit to get Grandal, as the Padres probably aren't actively looking to move him. They have the best catching prospect in baseball with Austin Hedges who should make his MLB debut sometime in 2014. The Padres are always looking for good, young arms, so perhaps a Chris Reed- or Onelki Garcia-for-Grandal swap could be in order (might take more than that... I'd stop short at Zach Lee). The package could expand to include Chase Headley and other Dodger players/prospects, but that doesn't seem to likely with the intradivisionness.

If the Dodgers don't find a suitable third baseman -- be it Headley, Juan Uribe or someone else -- the Dodgers might have to go with a really light bat/good glove guy and upgrade offensively elsewhere.

The Dodgers' minor-league catching depth is non-existent. Acquiring a potential future starter before his prime years would help to offset the lack of talent behind the plate on the farm.

Baseball America ranked the Top 15 talents 25 years old and younger with the Dodgers' Top 10 prospects on Monday. Of the 15, just four had regular or semi-regular playing time for the parent club last season: Puig, Chris Withrow, Paco Rodriguez and Dee Gordon. The Dodgers are a decidedly veteran team and will need to get younger. They've already talked about it with regard to the outfield, but it stands to reason they could use some youth infusion into the big league team. Acquiring a guy like Grandal would be a step in that direction.

Photo credit: SD Dirk, Flickr


  1. umm, I just have one thing to say about this poposed trade...and Im a Padre fan.

    If you guys really believe that Grandal can be had, you're gonna have to give up a WHOLE LOT...he hasnt even played a full season, yet and already its pretty clear that when healthy, he'll be something akini to Victor Martinez...he's that good.

    The PED situation?...yea, he messed up. But beyond trying to stay on the field, I don't think he went all out ot use PEDs to beef up or hit the ball harder or longer. He's always been a power hitter, dating back to high school and college.

    I just dont see Byrnes trading a guy like him to a division rival that already has more than enuf offense. You guys would have to give up a lot...and Byrnes, if called by Colleti, would probably go so far as ask for players that he knows Colleti isnt ready to part with.

    Nick Hundley is a "temporary in-convenience". Yea, you read that right. When all the stars and planets are lined up and he's had a little poon-tang, he can hit. But most days, he cant hit his ass with two hands. So, that may even add more urgency to the need of Yasmani Grandal.

  2. As a Padres fan, I'll second that. You won't be able to buy low on Grandal. I have every reason to believe that Yasmani has a great season ahead of him. The Padres likely plan to sell high on him next offseason, since Hedges will likely be ready in 2015. Now, if you want to talk about either Pederson or Seager, the Padres will be listening, including Headley in the discussions. But otherwise, the Dodgers will have no chance in landing Grandal this offseason.

  3. Just for the record: I never thought the Dodgers had a legit shot at landing Grandal. I was just throwing his name out as my own speculation. After Saltalamacchia signed, he looked like the next-best option for what I had in mind.