If you watched the Dodgers in the postseason this year, specifically if you watched the World Series, one thing became abundantly clear. Austin Barnes is officially the starting catcher with veteran Yasmani Grandal taking a seat. Grandal saw much more playing time during the regular season with 220 more plate appearances than Barnes, but when it mattered the most Dave Roberts made it clear who he preferred. In the entire 2017 postseason, Grandal ended up with only 11 plate appearances. Barnes, on the other hand, racked up 52 plate appearances.
Grandal didn’t exactly have a bad season, smacking 22 home runs and finishing with a .247/.308/.459 slash line. However, Barnes put up comparable numbers in his limited regular season at bats, finishing with 8 home runs and a .289/.408/.486 slash line. Barnes is also a much cheaper option, and with a little over a year of service time, is not a free agent until 2023. Grandal, on the other hand, is a free agent after next season and the Dodgers could see him walk away without getting anything in return.
While Grandal did take a step back last season compared to his impressive 2016 season, he would still represent the top of the catching market if he was put on the block. Among catchers, Grandal’s 22 home runs ranked 4th in MLB and 1st in the National League. His 50 runs scored ranked 7th in MLB and and 4th in the National League. The Dodgers backstop also ranked 9th in MLB and 6th in the National League with 58 RBI.
There are a number of free agent backstops available that could lessen the market for Grandal. However, the only notable names on that list are Jonathan Lucroy and Alex Avila. Entering his age 29 season, Grandal represents a younger option than the two who are entering their age 31 and 30 seasons respectively. Grandal also represents a much more powerful option than both Lucroy and Avila who hit 6 and 14 home runs respectively. Grandal also consistently ranks higher than both free agent backstops defensively, coming in as one of the best pitch framers in the league and throwing out well above average of would be base stealers.
The biggest question though will be which teams would be interested in making a deal. The first team that comes to mind is the Nationals. Although the Nationals did sign Matt Wieters to a 2-year/$21 million contract last offseason (with the second year as a player option), the team could use an upgrade behind the plate. Wieters finished the season with career worsts in a number of categories including batting average (.225), slugging percentage (.344), and OPS (.632). He also finished with nearly a career low in home runs with only 10 long balls. They could be in the market for a catcher to split time with Wieters who recently exercised his player option for the 2018 season.
It also seems to make more sense for Grandal to end up on an American League team. If that did happen, Grandal could get a number of at bats while in the designated hitter position, helping his longevity and providing some pop even on “rest” days. A team like the Angels seem to make sense except that their farm system may not have enough depth for their to be a match.
In the end, it will come down to how the market shapes up for catchers and the Dodgers will likely wait and see what Lucroy and Avila receive before making any decisions. If both catchers receive multi-year deals and teams in need of an upgrade behind the plate lose out on the two, expect the Dodgers to flip Grandal for a number of prospects. Worst case scenario, the Dodgers elect to hold on to Grandal and Barnes, giving them one of the best catching combos in all of baseball.