Simply because a player is available in trade, and even where his team is aggressively trying to trade him, we can’t always assume there will be a Chicago Cubs connection.
We know that the Cubs have only so many places at which they could add a regular, everyday-ish player without blocking a youngster. We also know that the Cubs would like to add contact skills and a lefty bat. We suspect that the Cubs would probably like to improve their receiving and framing skills behind the plate (either by way of addition or substantial improvement from Welington Castillo). We know that the Cubs love them some prime age players.
Enter Grandal, 26, who switch-hits and is not eligible for arbitration until after the 2015 season. He’s rated by BP and Statcorner as one of the better pitch-framers in baseball, consistently around 20 framing runs added above average over the course of a full season (that’s worth a touch more than two wins above replacement in framing, alone).
Your red flags on Grandal are the PED suspension in 2013 for a November 2012 positive test for elevated testosterone (he was later linked to the Biogenesis clinic), and a serious knee injury that ended his 2013 season in July. He has since played healthy – and theoretically clean – and batted .225/.327/.401 with a 111 wRC+ in 2014.
For his career, Grandal has hit .245/.350/.412 with a 119 wRC+ and an excellent 13.8% walk rate. Outside of Petco, his line shoots up to .260/.358/.443.
Even with the possible red flags, this is a guy you really, really want to take a chance on, assuming the makeup checks out with folks who know him well. And speaking of that, you’ll recall that Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, VP of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod, and Farm Director Jaron Madison all came over from the Padres. Hoyer and McLeod came over just before the Padres traded for Grandal, so there may not be as much familiarity there (though they were likely involved in scouting him extensively before the trade), but Madison was with the Padres for most of 2012, which was Grandal’s first year in the organization.
If the Padres are aggressively shopping Grandal thanks to their abundance of quality catching, I’d like to think the Cubs would at least have some conversations there.
Valuing Grandal in trade is difficult, because of the aforementioned great performance, relative youth, and ideal contract status, contrasted with the knee injury and PED suspension. On the balance, you’ve got to figure that the Padres would want at least one impact-type prospect plus more for Grandal, or a significant upgrade elsewhere on their big league club. Keep in mind, the Padres were in hard on Pablo Sandoval and Yasmany Tomas, so it’s clear that they’re looking for big-league-ready bats, outside of catcher. Are the Cubs the best fit in that regard? Maybe Luis Valbuena gets the conversation started – if you’re open to dealing him, that is – but he definitely doesn’t get you all the way there, even as valuable as he secretly is.
While I’m not of the mind that the Cubs have to add a starting catcher this offseason – I still like Castillo’s offensive upside and defensive skills, and I’d like to think he can improve on the framing troubles – this is pretty clearly a situation to watch. The Cubs’ pursuit of Russell Martin was as much about Martin, specifically, as it was about “adding a catcher,” but Grandal is such an interesting player. And he’s available.
But, keep in mind: there are going to be plenty of suitors for Grandal, especially given his offensive ability in an era of depressed offense.