From the moment that Austin Barnes overtook the primary catcher’s spot from Yasmani Grandal late last summer, speculation immediately began to swirl about how the club would handle Grandal moving forward, and many believed that a trade sometime during the winter months was imminent. However, with about a full month left before pitchers and catchers begin filing into the Camelback clubhouse, the rumors have quieted significantly, as it appears the Dodgers will stick with the duo, at least for the beginning of the regular season.
Despite all the controversial chatter, we were always believers that Los Angeles would retain Grandal, if only because the prospective catching crew at Triple-A Oklahoma City needed more time to mature. The major league squad seemingly has a capable backup catcher in Kyle Farmer, who is probably ready to be a full-time big leaguer. But the problem could lie in the depth beyond Farmer—what happens in the event of an injury? The 2017 season was was of those infrequent years for Los Angeles which didn’t see any of its catchers spend time on the disabled list, and if 2018 ends up proving to be the opposite, the club could be in a bit of trouble if they deal Grandal too soon.
With Farmer jumping into the understudy role to Barnes in the event of a Grandal trade, that pretty much leaves the catching duties at OKC to Will Smith and 19-year-old Keibert Ruiz, as Jack Murphy, Wynston Sawyer and veteran Bobby Wilson left the organization for greener pastures. Neither Smith or Ruiz have yet to see time above the Double-A level.
Taking all that into consideration, even with Barnes as the primary backstop, the playing time behind the dish may be divided up a lot more evenly than many anticipate, especially when taking measures of providing rest days to assure the best of health. This scenario plays well for skipper Dave Roberts, who believes he has two of the best catchers in the bigs.
“Defensively, they’re very comparable,” Roberts explained late last season. “Yaz throws better. But as far as the game-calling, the blocking, they’re very, very comparable. We have two elite catchers.”
Both backstops seem to have their own particular advantages. Grandal can hit from both sides of the plate, and unquestionably has more power. And he has the better arm when keeping would-be base-stealers in check. Barnes probably has better mechanics defensively, and some pundits believe that he even calls a better game. And despite not having as much pop as Grandal, Barnes seems to produce more consistently when hitting. Yaz has the propensity to fall into a deep offensive slump at any given point in time, and often pays the price on defense when he takes his pitch framing to the extreme. He had a whopping 16 passed balls last season, compared to only three from the much more steadier glove of Barnes.
When considering the 2018 projections from Steamer, they come across as being relatively accurate, based on everything we’ve discussed so far. Barnes is projected to hit .259/.344/.402 with 15 doubles, eight long balls and 35 RBI over 324 plate appearances, while the predictions for Grandal have him at a .234/.329/.440 slash line, with 11 doubles, 12 homers and 37 RBI over 275 plate appearances.
Looking ahead, two solid catchers for a full year is a huge bonus, and could only be beneficial heading into the 2018 postseason. Some believe that Grandal developed an attitude once he lost the primary job to Barnes, but after all, he’ll be in his walk year, and his performance will certainly have an impact on his future. Ideally, knowing that Grandal will be moving into free agency, it would be nice to get a profitable haul in a trade. But what the front office needs to decide is whether or not a deal supersedes the luxury of having perhaps the best catching tandem in baseball all season long.
I still believe the Dodgers won’t even consider trading Grandal until the summer deadlines approach, unless of course they’re overwhelmed by a prospective deal they can’t refuse. Ultimately, the management crew will need to decide what’s more important—having two quality catchers available for the 2018 playoffs, or hauling in at least some kind of return before Grandal walks away as a free agent.