After failing to land superstar third baseman Manny Machado last offseason, the White Sox wasted no time in their pursuit of free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal, inking the veteran backstop to a four-year, $73 million contract on Thursday. “Yasmani was absolutely toward the top of our list in terms of offseason priorities,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told reporters during a conference call to announce the signing -- the largest contract in franchise history -- on Thursday afternoon. “Obviously he was someone we acted on quickly.”
It’s a massive financial commitment -- $18.25 million per-season through 2023 -- but it’s certainly justifiable considering Grandal’s status as one of the most valuable all-around impact performers in the game. After turning down a reported four-year, $60 million offer from the Mets, eventually settling for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers last offseason, Grandal’s decision to bet on himself appears to have paid off. The 31-year-old thrived offensively in his lone season in Milwaukee, posting a robust .246/.380/.468 triple-slash line with 79 runs scored, 28 home runs and 77 RBI in 153 games. He also drew a whopping 109 walks across a career-high 632 plate appearances last year. In addition to his sublime on-base skills, he also grades out as one of the most powerful hitters at the position, eclipsing the 20-homer plateau in each of the last four years. His 101 round-trippers over the last four seasons represent the second-most among big-league catchers, trailing only Yankees’ slugger Gary Sanchez (105), during that span.
Grandal’s arrival in Chicago is extremely unlikely to reshape the American League playoff landscape, especially since the Twins and Indians appear poised to remain atop the AL Central for at least a few more seasons. However, his mere presence, especially from a defensive standpoint will undoubtedly accelerate their full-scale rebuilding effort. The overwhelming majority of Grandal’s value is derived from his defensive contributions, specifically in terms of pitch framing. Per Baseball Prospectus’ data, Grandal posted the third-highest Fielding Runs Above Average mark, which accounts for the totality of a backstop’s defensive contributions including framing, blocking and throwing, of any catcher in baseball last season. According to BP’s metrics, he also graded out as second-best framer in the game, trailing only Padres’ framing wizard Austin Hedges, last year. No matter how you parse the data, Grandal represent a massive defensive upgrade for the White Sox, who ranked second-worst among all major-league clubs in terms of pitch framing last season. His defensive prowess will also have an immediate and profound impact on their young nucleus of starting pitchers -- Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez -- for years to come.
From a fantasy standpoint, Grandal’s preternatural ability to recognize pitches and control the strike-zone should shorten any adjustment period as he transitions to the junior circuit after spending nearly a decade in the National League. Regardless of how the Willson Contreras situation unfolds this offseason, Grandal will likely be the third or fourth catcher -- behind Sanchez and J.T. Realmuto -- selected in fantasy drafts next spring.
Reds Roll Dice On DeLeon
In one of the most intriguing, under-the-radar moves of the offseason so far, the Reds acquired Jose De Leon from the Rays in exchange for cash considerations and a player to be named later on Wednesday. The 27-year-old, who was once viewed as one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the game, saw his promising career stall due to a myriad of injury issues. Yet, he showed some unmistakable flashes of potential when healthy last year, posting a 3.51 ERA and 73/27 K/BB ratio across 51 1/3 innings of work at Triple-A Durham. He also recorded a 2.25 ERA in three big-league appearances. It’s a low-risk reclamation project for the Reds, which could pay huge dividends if De Leon’s health cooperates.
Ellsbury Era Ends
The Yankees released veteran outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury on Wednesday. The injury-plagued 36-year-old has been sidelined since the 2017 campaign, due to a plethora of health issues. Given his omnipresent struggles, it’s easy to forget the electrifying version of Ellsbury, who recorded a whopping 14.9 wins-above-replacement over his final three years with the Red Sox, before inking a massive seven-year, $153 million deal with their long-time rivals back in 2014. Not only will the Yankees pay the remaining $20.14 million remaining on the final year of his deal, but he’s also owed a $5 million buyout in 2021. It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that Ellsbury represents one of the highest-profile free agent busts of the modern era.
American League Quick Hits: Indians acquired C Andres Melendez from the Brewers in exchange for INF Mark Mathias … Athletics designated RHP Jharel Cotton for assignment … Rays designated 3B Matt Duffy for assignment … Yankees designated 1B Greg Bird and RHP Nestor Cortes for assignment … White Sox designated OF Daniel Palka for assignment … Indians designated RHP Nick Goody for assignment … Royals designated OF Jorge Bonifacio, C Nick Dini, RHP Arnaldo Hernandez and RHP Connor Greene for assignment … Rangers designated LHP C.D. Pelham and RHP Taylor Guerrieri for assignment … Blue Jays designated RHP Justin Shafer for assignment and sent LHP Tim Mayza outright to Triple-A Buffalo … Levi Weaver of The Athletic reported Wednesday RHP Adrian Sampson is headed to play for the Lotte Giants in the Korean Baseball Organization … According to Emily Waldon of The Athletic, INF Dixon Machado has signed with the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization … RHP Mike Wright has signed with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization.
National League Quick Hits: Marlins designated LHP Wei-Yin Chen for assignment … Cardinals designated RHP Dominic Leone for assignment … Padres designated OF Nick Martini for assignment … Pirates designated RHP Dario Agrazal, RHP Montana DuRapau, RHP Luis Escobar and LHP Williams Jerez for assignment … Mets signed LHP Chasen Shreve to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training and designated RHP Drew Gagnon for assignment … OF Aaron Altherr has signed with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization.