The Milwaukee Brewers introduce their new catcher, Yasmani Grandal, at a news conference at Miller Park on Tuesday.
Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A general manager knows he has made an important player acquisition when he elicits a somewhat stunned, one-word response from his manager.
That was the reaction from Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell in a text message when general manager David Stearns informed him last week that free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal had agreed to a deal with the club.
“David had talked about it but he always downplayed it pretty heavily so I wouldn’t bug him about it every day,” Counsell said with a grin. “I do remember we had a conversation earlier in the week, then he texted me and said he thought it was going to happen.
“I was surprised. Maybe he was slow-playing it to me a little bit.”
HAUDRICOURT: Brewers seized unique opportunity with Grandal
Grandal passed his physical exam on Monday and was introduced to local media Tuesday morning at Miller Park. His unexpected deal with the Brewers will pay him $16 million this season with a mutual option for $16 million in 2020 with a guaranteed $2.25 million buyout if either side declines.
Thus ended what for Grandal was an eye-opening first foray into free agency, which has become a different animal for players the past two winters as teams curtailed their previous free-spending ways. Early in the process, Grandal passed on a possible four-year, $60 million deal with the New York Mets, only to see the market go cold.
Grandal, who turned down a $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers to become a free agent, did not elaborate during the media session on spurning the Mets but later told the MLB Network it was all about AAV, or average annual value. He didn’t feel the top catcher on the market should take less annual pay than some of his predecessors, such as Brian McCann ($17 million average in five-year deal with the Yankees) and Yadier Molina ($20 million average in three-year extension with the Cardinals).
“I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did, those guys who established pay levels and markets for upper-tier catchers like me,” said Grandal, who had a $7.9 million salary last season.
“So, I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of these deals being thrown around.”
The agreement with the Brewers technically gives Grandal $18.25 million for one year, including the buyout of the option. Mutual options rarely are exercised by both parties but it gave the Brewers two advantages, deferring some of the money to 2020 and opening the door for extension talks should they decide they want to keep Grandal.
“It was a little stressful,” Grandal said of the free-agent process. “This was my first time through it. I learned from it. The fact I’m here is very exciting for me and my family. I can’t wait to get going.”
To accommodate Grandal’s salary, Stearns had to convince principal owner Mark Attanasio to stretch his payroll beyond previous boundaries. The Brewers’ highest opening-day payroll had been $104 million in 2015, but they already are at $110 million with 20 signed players and also have about $6 million in deferred salaries and buyouts on the books.
Stearns said he didn’t have to twist Attanasio’s arm to agree to adding Grandal, who has led all major-league catchers with 73 homers over the past three seasons while gaining a reputation for handling pitchers with great prowess.
“As this opportunity became a possibility, Mark and our ownership group authorized us to stretch our resources beyond our normal constraints,” Stearns said. “Equally important, Yasmani throughout this process indicated a consistent and sincere desire to be a member of our organization. Yasmani understands the culture we’ve built here. He understands what we’ve accomplished the last few years and what we want to accomplish going forward.
“I’ve said many times that Mark is competitive and wants to win. As a baseball operations group, when we bring to him opportunities we feel like make our organization better and significantly improves our chances to win, Mark listens.
“In this situation, Mark was very open from the beginning of the off-season that he wanted us to explore every opportunity possible to improve the team, whether or not it could exist within the constraints we previously operated under. As we talked through it, Mark understood the value this could bring to the organization and was very supportive of us pursuing it.”
Before the opportunity to sign Grandal arose, the Brewers were prepared to go with the catching tandem of Manny Piña and Erik Kratz, who shared duties over the second half of last season. They are solid defenders behind the plate but don’t have the offensive pedigree of Grandal, who compiled a .815 OPS in 140 games in 2018.
“The length of your lineup is so important,” Counsell said. “You always have the pitcher at the bottom that you feel is one out. So lengthening the lineup with tough outs is really important. Adding a switch-hitter to that mix that’s going to be a consistent presence in the lineup is something that’s new to us, and going to be very valuable.
“We’ve added a very good offensive player to the lineup. Defensively, he has proven how good he is with the staff he has caught and the receiving numbers he has generated. That’s a very important part of the game.”
Grandal did not play well in the postseason, particularly in the National League Championship Series against the Brewers. He went 2 for 11 (.182) with no RBI and committed three passed balls, getting benched in favor of backup Austin Barnes at one point.
Asked what he might have gained from that experience, Grandal said, “Knowledge. That’s pretty much it. I take everything given me and apply it to the future. Hopefully, this time around, my plan is better. As an individual, you need to keep improving. You do that by gathering as much information as you can gather.”
As for what attracted him to the Brewers, other than the money, Grandal said, “In my opinion, this is one of the most complete teams in baseball. They’ve made the right moves. I like the way they play. I like the way the clubhouse seems to have a great feel to it. It showed last season, especially late in the year when they made a great run.
“It shows they’re built to win and built to win now. It was just a matter of getting on another contending team and hopefully helping them reach their goal.”