The Pirates and catcher Yasmani Grandal are in agreement on a contract, per reporter Francys Romero. Robert Murray of FanSided reported earlier this evening that the sides were in “serious talks” regarding a deal. Per Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the deal guarantees Grandal $2.5MM and includes incentives, with MLB.com’s Alex Stumpf noting the contract is a one-year deal.
Grandal, 35, was a first-round pick by the Reds 2010 draft and quickly rose to become a consensus top-50 prospect in the sport ahead of his debut with the Padres back in 2012. Grandal hit an impressive .297/.394/.469 over 60 games during his rookie campaign in San Diego, though he missed much of the following season after being suspended for 50 games due to violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Upon being traded to the Dodgers ahead of the 2015 season, Grandal established himself as one of the league’s premiere two-way catchers as he combined above-average offense with strong defensive metrics.
During a seven-year period from 2015 to 2021, Grandal slashed an impressive .239/.357/.461 while playing for the Dodgers, Brewers, and White Sox. That slash line was good for a 122 wRC+ that was surpassed only by Will Smith and Mitch Garver among catchers during that stretch. Meanwhile, his +56 Defensive Runs Saved ranked fourth in the majors during that time, trailing only Roberto Perez, Austin Hedges, and Buster Posey. Grandal combined that two-way talent with impeccable durability, with only J.T. Realmuto and Yadier Molina appearing in more games behind the plate than Grandal over that seven-year period. In that time frame, Grandal appeared behind the plate in 693 games, or more than two thirds of his club’s regular season contests.
Fantastic as Grandal was during his peak, the veteran began to decline rapidly upon entering his mid-thirties. Over his final two seasons in Chicago, Grandal slashed just .219/.305/.306 with a well-below average wRC+ of 74. While he maintained a solid 10.4% walk rate in that time, his power production cratered as he posted an ISO of just .087, a figure that pales in comparison to the career .211 figure he boasted entering the 2022 campaign. Father time has also been unkind to Grandal’s defensive skills. While Statcast’s Outs Above Average still grades him as a roughly average defender with plus framing metrics, his -16 DRS behind the plate is the fourth-worst figure in the majors over the past two seasons, ahead of only Elias Diaz, MJ Melendez, and Keibert Ruiz.
While Grandal’s decline over the past two seasons has been a steep one, the veteran backstop could still prove to be a valuable addition for a Pittsburgh team in search of a veteran presence behind the plate. The Pirates lost rookie catcher Endy Rodriguez to UCL surgery back in December. The 23-year-old youngster is expected to miss the entirety of the 2024 campaign, leaving backup catcher Jason Delay and catching-prospect-turned-outfielder Henry Davis as the club’s top internal options behind the plate. Delay owns a .233/.293/.311 slash line across 127 games in the majors, while Davis struggled to a .213/.302/.351 slash line during his first 255 trips to the plate in the big leagues last season.
The addition of Grandal figures to give the Pirates the opportunity to offer Davis, who has caught just two innings behind the plate last year and has started only 92 contests at the position throughout his entire professional career, more time to develop defensively behind the plate in the minor leagues should he require it. Alternatively, the club could look to pair Grandal with Davis at the big league level, providing Davis a veteran mentor as he goes through his first big league season as a regular backstop. Such an arrangement could involve the club carrying three catchers on its roster to open the season, though Delay has options remaining and could be utilized as depth at the Triple-A level.
Pittsburgh also signed 27-year-old catcher Ali Sanchez to a big league deal back in December. Sanchez has just seven games of big league experience, but sports a decent .275/.345/.402 slash line for his career at the Triple-A level and has a strong defensive reputation behind the plate. Sanchez is out of options, meaning the club will have to either carry him on their Opening Day roster or expose him to waivers. With Grandal, Davis, Delay, and Sanchez all set to enter camp with at least a shot at a big league role for the Pirates entering the season, the club has successfully addressed its big league caliber catching depth in the wake of Rodriguez’s injury.