Ask any LA Angels fan what the team needs this off-season, and the answer will invariably be, “Pitching!” They’d be right in that the Angels do need pitching, but the team has more issues that can only be solved quickly with dollar bills.
That’s why the LA Angels need to open the wallet for Yasmani Grandal.
The free agent catcher, who just turned 30 in early November, put up a .241/.349/.466 slash line with the cross-town rival Dodgers, helping them to their second straight World Series. Beyond hitting over 20 homers three straight years, he’s been a workhorse behind the plate, totally over a thousand innings behind the plate last year and nearly three thousand over the past three seasons.
The hidden value of his defense cannot be stressed enough: While other guys are winning the Gold Glove and getting press for their defense, Baseball Prospectus ranked Grandal as the best defensive catcher in baseball last season, much of it on the strength of his excellent pitch framing skills.
Grandal will not come cheap. The Dodgers extended Grandal a qualifying offer which he declined, meaning that whoever signs Grandal will have to give up a compensation pick in next year’s amateur draft in addition to paying Grandal’s big new contract.
It’s worth it. The Angels do need pitching, but the fact is that while the Angels pitching staff put up a completely mediocre 4.46 ERA and a 101 OPS+ this past season (league averages were 4.56 and 100, respectively), the offense actually performed worse than the pitchers. Despite jacking up 214 homers in 2018, 5th best in the American League, they scored just 4.45 runs per game, good for just 8th in the league, and below the league average of 4.53.
The catcher’s spot is one of the big reasons why: last season, Angel catchers collectively batted .220/271/.357. Catcher might be primarily a defensive position, but they have to bat, too. The Angels already have gaping offensive holes to plug at second and third base and in right field, and no big offensive pluses other than that guy in centerfield. While they’re hoping prospects David Fletcher and Taylor Ward and the return of Zack Cozart will fill those infield positions, and have prospects in the pipeline who can eventually take over for the stiffening corpse that used to be Kole Calhoun, there simply is no catching prospect in the Angel system who can take over at catcher.
Jose Briceño, you say? His .299 on-base percentage in his 46 games matches that of his .297 OBP at AAA Salt Lake, and he hasn’t managed an OBP in the minors over .300 since 2014. Francisco Arcia, perhaps? Take out his spectacular first two games, and Arcia batted .168/.186/.326 with zero (zero!) walks in 97 plate appearances. The solution to the Angels’ catching woes does not exist in-house.
There are other free agent catchers. Wilson Ramos is probably the best available offensive catcher, but he’s nowhere near the defensive talent Grandal is. Jonathan Lucroy is nearly three years older than Grandal, and is no longer the All-Star he was in Milwaukee. There’s popular support for Martín Maldonado to be resigned, but he didn’t hit before and he’s going to not hit again. Robinson Chirinos had two strong seasons as the primary backstop in Texas, but he’s already 34 years old and no one’s idea of a multi-year solution.
There’s really only one catcher the Angels should be looking at. With the entire franchise forced to be in constant win-now mode during Mike Trout’s prime with the team — however long that might be — they just don’t have the option of cutting corners anymore. A reasonable offer would be around four-year and between 10 and 12 million dollars, and it would give the Angels a massive upgrade offensively, and give the Angel pitching staff a premium target to throw to.