The Twins have a star catcher coming back next year in Mitch Garver. They also should have room to spend and are in need of bolstering their pitching staff if they want to compete with the top-echelon teams for a 2020 World Series bid.
The Twins should sign free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal.
Call me crazy, but I think a push for the best catcher on the market makes all of the sense in the world. Provided, of course, that the Twins also add pitching to their roster this winter.
Why Grandal? Let’s start there, because that part will be easier to convince you than why the Twins should fill an area that you might not perceive to be a need.
Grandal is a superstar, period, full stop.
Over the past three seasons with the Dodgers and Brewers, he’s neck and neck with Willson Contreras as the best offensive catcher not named Mitch
Garver. The switch-hitter has batted .244/.349/.464 with 74 home runs since the start of 2017. And to whatever weight you give defensive metrics for catchers, Grandal consistently rates as one of the best, preserving strikes and getting his pitchers through innings and games. In 2019, only one catcher was trackably better than Grandal at saving runs by preserving strikes, according to data from Baseball Savant. And he was better at it than guys
we all consider to be superstars: Buster Posey and J.T. Realmuto. He was also better than Garver, Jason Castro and, yes, Yadier Molina.
I believe that Grandal legitimately makes his battery mate a better pitcher, and he does so with a switch-hitting power bat to boot.
We’re talking about a good hitter and a good defensive catcher who is durable and a free agent. This is the kind of guy that should interest the Twins. According to the Wins Above Replacement metric on FanGraphs, Grandal rates as the second-best backstop over the past three seasons, one Win behind Realmuto (15.0 to 14.0 fWAR).
So why do the Twins need another catcher? I thought their highest priority ought to be targeting impact pitching?
Fair question. Aside from the obvious route of adding better pitchers, two ways that I can come up with to improve the staff: Get Byron Buxton back to doing Buxton things in centerfield, and make sure that most — if not all — of your defensive innings at catcher are handled by a stud.
If Jason Castro moves on in free agency and the team determines that Willians Astudillo is a nice guy and a fun story, but not quite ready to be a starting catcher in the big leagues, then in my book the need is clear.
In 2020, there aren’t many teams that consider the role of “starting catcher” to be the person who squats behind the plate for 140 games and 1,200+ innings and then hopefully holds up over 7 months and hits a little bit, sometimes. Catcher is the highest demand position on the diamond, and it’s a pretty comfortable cushion between that and the next toughest.
Garver missed some time last year, so these numbers may be a tad skewed, but consider them. Between the trio of Twins catchers last year, Garver had roughly 46% of the defensive innings to Castro’s 43% and La Tortuga’s 11%. Garver also paced the group for plate appearances (359) with roughly 50%, once you strip away the trips to the plate that Astudillo made as a non-catcher. So I’d say the needs are pretty clear.
To say nothing of the fact that Garver is a lefty masher, and they might like to balance that out with some left-handed hitting, I still think they could stand to add more. The Twins will need to fill about 50% of catcher plate appearances and 54% of catcher defensive innings, if Garver only repeats what he did last year. If Garver takes a meaningful step forward in either department, then you get creative with DH insurance for Nelson Cruz, first baseman insurance for Question Mark, and the possibility of an underused outstanding asset.
And if Garver takes step backward for any reason, including injury, then the Twins have a 31-year-old, switch-hitting superstar catcher and they don’t miss a beat.
From Grandal’s side of the fence, the industry was somewhat surprised that he’d reportedly turned down $60 million over 4 years from the Mets to accept a one-year agreement worth approximately the same amount as the Qualifying Offer. Stick to your convictions and bet on yourself, I suppose.
If you’re Grandal, would you want to join a Twins team that already has a soon-to-be-29-year-old Garver in place for the foreseeable future? Well, you might if you’re looking for a place with cash to spend (check) a roster in need of more juice (swept in the ALDS) but an organization with World Series aspirations and a clear respect for the level of workload and responsibility required from catchers. Not for nothing, their former catching coordinator, Tanner Swanson, got plucked to be on the big league staff with the Yankees.
I can report that the Twins had interest in Grandal last winter. That was then, and the picture has changed. Now, you’re pretty sure you’ve got a star player in Mitch Garver, and you’re no longer relying on a bulk of innings from a catcher coming off another significant knee surgery (Jason Castro). All things considered, it actually worked out great for the Twins in 2019.
What I’m saying now is that the Twins ought to make Grandal one of their free-agent priorities. Sign him and keep Garver around and you’ve got yourself the best catching situation in baseball.