Just when we thought we couldn’t possibly be more excited about the another season starting following the magic that was 2016, the front office went out and grabbed one of the most consistent power hitters in baseball (and arguably the best free agent of his class) at a steep, steep discount and Indians fandom lost their minds in excitement.
Encarnacion’s market cratered after he reportedly turned down a four-year, $80 million deal from the Blue Jays and he eventually signed a three-year, $60 million deal to join the Indians. It didn’t result in a World Series, but it sure was a fun ride, and I’ll never get sick of seeing that GIF of those parrots going crazy every time he gets a home run. The fact that they got a hitter as great as Encarnacion for $20 million a year was insane and it all happened because the Indians were patient and let the market play out before making their move.
Could the same thing be happening again with Yasmani Grandal? Hear me out.
The 30-year-old catcher has spent the last four years with the Los Angeles Dodgers and put up a wRC+ well over a 100 every season, his lowest being 102 in 2017. He hit 89 home runs in that span, has held a walk rate in the double digits in all but that down 2017 season, and in 2018 he finished second in fWAR among catchers. Yet, like most free agents, here he sits unsigned, being the best catcher on the free agent market and having a few rumors tied to him.
Like Encarnacion in 2016, Grandal has reportedly turned down his own lucrative offer when the Mets were willing to pay him $60 million over four years. Since then, it’s been mostly quiet on the Grandal front, and it likely will be until Bryce Harper and Manny Machado find thier new homes. Good luck finding any rumor involving Grandal and the Indians, but I have one simple question — why not?
I love the potential power of Eric Haase as much as anyone, but Streamer projects him to have a wRC+ of just 66 with five home runs in 150 plate appearances as a rookie. Following Steamer again, Roberto Perez is projected to get the bulk of playing time behind the plate with 433 plate appearances, 1.6 fWAR, and a 79 wRC+. It’s a weirdly cheery outlook, but Steamer really likes Roberto to regress closer to his 2015 “breakout” 107 wRC+ season, rather than his abysmal 2018. Still not exactly the kind of offense the Indians need to shore up an offense
As for Grandal, Steamer has him at 3.5 fWAR, a .237/.343/.444 slash, and 22 home runs for a wRC+ of 115 — an instant, and dramatic, bump on offense and likely not that big of a drop-off on defense. Of course catcher isn’t the biggest need for the Indians right now, but the tea leaves (which is code for just making things up), it looks like the Indians are set on hoping one or more of the many young outfielders they’ve acquired in the past year can make an impact somewhere. Outfield is the biggest need, but they’ve gathered so much potential that one of them Unless Perez has some magic catcher sauce that we aren’t privy to outside of the data that major league organizations have, the bump that Grandal provides makes it a really obvious move to make in a vacuum.
Out of a vacuum, it still makes sense, and the Indians might have inadvertently set themselves up for it perfectly. According to Spotrac, the Indians have roughly $84.6 million allocated for 2019, which puts them right below league average, and $15 million below the next highest payroll of the Colorado Rockies. If Grandal turned down a deal with an AAV of $15 million, and if he falls into the same place as Encarnacion of a year ago and can’t find a team to give him the higher deal he wants, the Indians are in a place to swoop in and get a star player on a steep discount for the second time in three years.