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Yasmani Grandal signed a great deal for the Brewers, and a bad deal for baseball

It’s a ludicrous deal, unless it’s totally reasonable. Come talk this through with me.

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Three Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

POINT: Yasmani Grandal is a freak, an absolute anomaly. Catchers aren’t supposed to hit. Switch-hitting catchers definitely aren’t supposed to hit. There aren’t enough switch-hitting catchers who don’t hit, really, so to find someone who can swing the stick from both sides of the plate, well, that’s just special.

Every contending team without a plus hitter behind the plate — maybe even every contending team, period — should want Grandal on their team. He makes baseball teams better.

Getting a player like this on a one-year deal, securing his production in a season when the Brewers will almost certainly contend, is a coup. It avoids all of the risks that a team should be burdened with when they give money to a veteran free agent. It contains all of the rewards.

This deal is a travesty.

COUNTERPOINT: I watched Yasmani Grandal in the postseason, and I’m not sure if I’ve seen a catcher who was that hopelessly lost.

As someone who came of age in the Era of Sabermetrics Are Always, ALWAYS Right, a dogma that has aged a little like a yearbook haircut, I’m still a believer in the power of big samples. The corollary of that is the dismissal of small samples. I didn’t watch more than 20 or 30 Dodgers games during the regular season, so I shouldn’t pretend that the 14 games I watched him play in the postseason were more important.

And yet I can’t get Mary Hart yelling at Grandal out of my head.

That was in Game 3 of the NLCS, when Grandal had a passed ball. He also struck out three times in the game, including with the bases loaded in the ninth. In the game before, he slid feet-first into first base with the bases loaded in a one-run game. It wasn’t just that he was bad. He was lost.

Grandal got just five at-bats in the 2018 World Series and a hit in one of them (a grounder to the right side). The Dodgers weren’t thinking of him as an asset they would like to control for several years. They were thinking of him as a player they needed to hide in the World Series.

POINT: Saaaaaaaaaample size. Sample size.

Sample size.

Grandal has played in 726 regular-season games in his career, accruing 2,660 plate appearances. He’s led the league in passed balls three times, so it’s not like we should be surprised at several of them clustering together when people happen to be paying attention. Extra passed balls in the postseason don’t have to be evidence of some sort of Steve Blass-ening that’s happening in front of our eyes.

Grandal has been a good hitter in the past. He’s likely to be a good hitter in the future. And when you focus on his passed balls or postseason strikeouts, you’re overlooking things like his remarkable pitch-framing.

He’s been one of the more valuable catchers over the last several years, and when you compare him to Brian McCann or Russell Martin — two catchers who got longer, more expensive contracts at a similar age — he holds up extremely well.

Here’s that same point, but tied it to the idea that veterans aren’t getting paid what they used to, which is a problem for labor peace:

Grandal is good, everyone. He’ll make the Brewers better. Teams should want to get better in the offseason, and I can’t believe it’s gotten to the point where I have to say that out loud.

COUNTERPOINT: Still thinking about the Mary Hart thing.

Well, not her reaction specifically, but the reaction of everyone who was watching Grandal in the postseason, including myself. Recency bias is absolutely at play, here, but that doesn’t mean you can shake it off as soon as you realize it. Typing the words “recency bias” doesn’t make you forget the most recent information that your brain has processed.

It was just a couple days ago that I wrote this:

One year, $17.9 million, and we’ll forget the whole refusal of the qualifying offer thing happened. Grandal was a mess in the postseason, and while switch-hitting catchers with power and on-base skills are absolute freaks and should be coveted, it’s hard to shake that last impression.

There’s more of a market for catchers than there is for second basemen, so I might be way off on this, but I don’t see him going anywhere on a long-term deal for a bunch of money. That’s 2013 talk.

I absolutely saw this coming, and that was entirely because I had the same reservations as a lot of the teams out there. It’s that voice in my head saying “What was that?” regarding Grandal’s October, and it’s loud.

GMs and front offices might not have heard that same voice. But they could at least pretend that they did. They had unexpected leverage against a switch-hitting catcher who can hit well enough to slot into the middle of an order, and they used it without mercy.

The idea that owner-friendly contracts are good for a team is so popular because of the insinuation that they will lead to that team overpaying the exact players they need. But the overpaying has stopped. And there’s gonna be problems because of this.

CONCLUSION: I wouldn’t be going through these mental gymnastics if Grandal were just paid more for the good years he’s already had.

That’s it. That’s the solution. Almost a year ago, I wrote this in response to another slow offseason:

The current paradigm of young players subsidizing old players can’t sustain itself, if only because there are more young, underpaid players than old, overpaid veterans, and always will be. At some point, the veterans will realize that the money saved on young players doesn’t have to be funneled to them, and they’ll realize that pre-arbitration contracts and six/seven years of instant team control are keeping salaries down for everyone.

The solution, then, is this:

Pay young players more money.

If Grandal is making more money while he’s actively providing value to his team, it’s easier to point at a one-year pillow contract like this and suggest it’s because of his specific postseason struggles. There wouldn’t be any assumed perfidy. The market would have spoken.

Grandal made relative peanuts for the 2014 Padres, which made their owners feel better about paying $9.5 million for Carlos Quentin. He made relative peanuts for the 2015 Dodgers, which made their owners feel better about paying $22 million for Adrian Gonzalez. This kept happening until it was time for Grandal to be on the other side of the ledger, which is when baseball said, whoopsie-doodle, we’re not handing out those kinds of long-term contracts anymore. Here’s one year. We were, uh, worried about your postseason.

Arbitration for rookies. Arbitration for second-year players. Stop making the most valuable players the cheapest players, and we won’t get so confused with a player like Grandal, who is more confusing than he should be. A one-year deal wouldn’t be evidence of a broken system. It would just be evidence of 30 GMs all remembering that Mary Hart GIF.

As is, it sure looks fishy for a player with Grandal’s resume to have to settle for a one-year deal in an offseason in which teams are actively pretending that they can’t use 26-year-old superstars because they’ll make too much money.

I get why teams might have been wary about giving Grandal a big, long-term deal. But I also miss the era when teams would have gone ahead and done it anyway. This new framework is all screwed up, and a storm’s a-brewin’.