If there’s any area of the roster wide open for the taking over the winter break, it’s the Los Angeles catching department. Although it’s doubtful, it’s entirely possible the Dodgers have confidence that Austin Barnes can be the primary backstop, producing solidly both on offense and defense. Or, maybe management extends free agent Yasmani Grandal a qualifying offer, if only to hold the team over until either Will Smith or Keibert Ruiz are ready to emerge at the big league level. Or, perhaps the team is able to orchestrate a deal for somebody like J.T. Realmuto—the stellar catcher from Miami who is coming off his first-ever NL All-Star appearance.
As crazy as it sounds, at the beginning of 2018, not many fans expected Grandal to be a part of the team past the summer trade deadlines, mainly because he was set to become a free agent, coupled with the fact that Barnes stole the primary catching duties from him during the stretch run of the 2017 campaign. However, Barnes regressed in a huge kind of way with the bat last year, in addition to his arm appearing to be weaker when attempting to throw out would-be base-stealers.
In 262 PA during the 2017 season, Barnes slashed an impressive .289/.408/.486 with 15 doubles, eight long balls and 38 RBI. In 238 PA this season—a very similar number to the previous campaign—Barnesy hit just .205/.329/.290 with five doubles, four home runs and just 14 RBI. Maybe retrogression would be a more appropriate word. To top it off, 18 of 23 baserunners were successful in stealing bases against him. If there’s any silver lining to Barnes, his defense mechanics are among the best in the game—he had just one passed ball all of last year. Nevertheless, the Dodgers ideally would like to have a reputable backstop who can also provide some pop with the lumber, an image that Barnes just doesn’t fit.
Extending a QA to Grandal would make a bit of sense, despite many believing that $17.9 million is an exorbitant amount for one-year of his services. If he rejects and signs a longer deal elsewhere, the Dodgers would be compensated with a draft pick, so from that standpoint it seems logical. But, the price tag is so ridiculously high that Grandal would probably be inclined to accept a deal, even though it’s just for one season. This way, the Dodgers could continue to groom Smith and Ruiz at their own leisure. There would also be an option of moving Grandal at the 2019 deadlines should somebody like Smith be ahead of the learning curve. Plus, the $17.9 million wouldn’t be overwhelming to a payroll that just reset its Luxury Tax penalty.
Believe it or not, Grandal’s 2018 campaign was almost identical to his 2017 season in terms of offense. In 2018, he hit .241/.349/.466 with 23 doubles, 24 homers and 68 RBI, compared to 2017 when he slashed .247/.308/.459 with 27 doubles, 22 HR and 58 RBI. The biggest problem with Grandal is his glove—so much so that he was heavily scrutinized and subsequently benched for his receiving skills during the 2018 postseason. But the good news is that he threw out 20 basestealers compared to Barnsey’s five.
So, as much of a sour taste he’s left in the mouths of Los Angeles fans, Grandal returning on a one-year QA will still be a better option than Barnes, at least in theory. Unless, of course, Barnsey decides to go all Chris Taylor and Max Muncy on us, retooling his swing and launch angle to the point where he bangs 20+ home runs next year.
Realmuto is an intriguing possibility. Our site’s minor league correspondent, Jason Manuel, took a look at the Oklahoma native last year, and being that Realmuto’s still vocal about his impending exodus in Florida, he may be the perfect fit for the Dodgers. Last year, he slashed .277/.340/.484 with 30 doubles, 21 long balls and 74 RBI. And, he threw out 21 of 55 would-be base-stealers—a number almost better than Grandal and Barnes combined. Obviously, the demands will be high as far as a return goes, and the lingering question surrounds just how much the Dodgers are willing to give up for his services.
Consequently, the free agent market isn’t intriguing at all, as most veteran catchers tend to start losing many of their reflexes once they become eligible. There isn’t anybody under 30 years of age on this winter’s list, and Grandal actually has the highest WAR (3.6) of all the backstops on the market. Other free agent catchers of interest include Wilson Ramos, Martin Maldonado and Jonathan Lucroy—none of whom are likely to receive qualifying offers from their former clubs.
Regarding the depth chart, Kyle Farmer is still around, but it still seems like Los Angeles management doesn’t trust him to put on the catching equipment at the big league level. Smith, who was promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City in the second-half of 2018, was invited to be present in the big league dugout throughout the 2018 postseason, with the idea of it accelerating the development of his attitude and professionalism. Smith can also play a little second and third base, so to think that he’s a little higher on the ladder than Ruiz wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Below both of them is Connor Wong, a very capable backstop who appears to be stranded at the Double-A level until something breaks with either Smith or Ruiz. A trade this winter moving one of the aforementioned players isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Looking ahead to 2019, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Grandal back for one more year. At the same time, I also wouldn’t be shocked to see the Dodgers break camp with Barnes and Smith on the big league roster, despite both of them swinging from the right side of the plate. After all, adjustments can be made at midseason, even though premium catchers with value are very seldom moved for reasonable prices.
Realmuto, it seems, could potentially be the biggest trophy of the entire winter.
The deadline to extend qualifying offers to impending free agents is five days after the conclusion of the World Series, which is Friday, November 2.