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Mets interested in free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal

Despite his struggles in the postseason, Grandal performed admirably in 2018.

MLB: NLCS-Milwaukee Brewers at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Mets are reportedly among the teams interested in signing free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network. While the fact that he received a qualifying offer from the Dodgers may complicate things, Grandal has performed very well at one of Major League Baseball’s shallowest positions over the last four seasons, and he’s expected to receive a multi-year contract worth about $16 million annually.

A first-round draft pick by the Reds in the 2010 draft, Grandal spent parts of three seasons playing for the Padres before he was traded to the Dodgers following the 2014 season in exchange for Matt Kemp, Tim Federowicz, and cash considerations. With the Dodgers, Grandal blossomed into one of the best catchers in the league, posting 11.2 fWAR in 510 games played between the 2015 and 2018 seasons, and providing well above average offense at one of baseball’s weakest offensive positions. Perhaps most surprisingly, given the fact that Grandal missed most of the 2013 season with a significant knee injury, Grandal has proven to be an extremely durable backstop for the Dodgers. Grandal has appeared in 120 or more games in each of the last three seasons.

The 2018 season was another successful campaign for Grandal, ranking second among major league catchers in fWAR, and ranking third behind J.T. Realmuto and Wilson Ramos in wRC+ among catchers with at least 150 plate appearances. He’s coming off of one of the best offensive seasons of his career, having hit .241/.349/.466 in 518 plate appearances in 2018, which was good for an .815 OPS and a 125 wRC+. Grandal has also possesses excellent plate discipline, as evidenced by his 13.9% walk rate in 2018, which was the thirteenth-best walk rate in the league among qualified hitters.

While Grandal’s offensive abilities are consistently above average, his defensive game has clear strengths and weaknesses. He’s considered one of the league’s best pitch framers, providing a lot of defensive value in the form of stealing strikes on questionable pitches. Grandal led the league in framing runs in 2018, according to Baseball Prospectus, and placed second in framing runs above average according to Statcorner. While his framing numbers provide plenty of defensive value, more traditional measures of catcher defense are less bullish on Grandal’s performance. His 2.04 pop-time was well below average according to Baseball Savant, ranking 73rd out of 108 qualified catchers.

Grandal has also had issues at times with blocking pitches in the dirt, and he particularly struggled during the 2018 NLCS against the Milwaukee Brewers. During the postseason this year, he committed two errors and allowed three passed balls in just 71 innings caught. His defensive struggles, coupled with the fact that he hit just .138/.265/.276 in 14 postseason games, led to plenty of boos from disappointed Dodger fans, and he lost playing time to Austin Barnes during the NLCS and World Series.

Despite his poor performance in the postseason, the Mets’ interest in Grandal was expected, as team tries to contend in 2019. The Mets got the third-least amount of production in the National League by fWAR from the catching position in 2018. With Kevin Plawecki, the Mets’ incumbent, having proven in 2018 that he’s more of a good backup catcher than a starter, adding Yasmani Grandal as the primary backstop could go a long way towards turning one of the Mets’ biggest weaknesses into an area of strength.

If the Mets decide that they don’t want to sign Grandal, there are a few other catchers on the free agent market who could be targeted, including Wilson Ramos, Martin Maldonado, and Kurt Suzuki.