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Cubs Trade Targets: Yasmani Grandal

Multiple reports have the Friars' catcher on the market. Should the Cubs be interested?

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Russell Martin signed with the Blue Jays. You probably heard that. You also probably heard that the Cubs were interested in signing Martin and in any case, are interested in upgrading their catching situation from Welington Castillo, who had a rough season. But with Marin off the market, the list of available catchers is a short one. In the free agent market, the best choices are uninspiring third-tier choices: Geovany Soto (done that) and A.J. Pierzynski (not going to touch that one).

The trade market is a little better, with the Diamondbacks making Miguel Montero available. Al laid out the case for Montero two weeks ago. But the reasons that the Diamondbacks are making Montero available are the very reason that the Cubs would want to shy away from him. He's past 30, his production is declining and he's owed $40 million over the next three seasons.

But a new name has come on the market in the past few weeks.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Other teams say the Padres have gotten more aggressive in marketing catcher Yasmani Grandal in trade discussions.</p>&mdash; Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) <a href="">December 1, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Grandal is available because he's lost his starting job in San Diego to the surprisingly good Rene Rivera. Should the Cubs make an offer for Yasmani Grandal? Grandal has a lot of positives. For one, he's only 25, two years younger than Castillo. Grandal doesn't hit for much average, but he draws a lot of walks and has good power. While his career numbers look superficially similar to Castillo's (other than Grandal's better OBP), Grandal put up those numbers at Petco Park rather than at Wrigley. Grandal's career triple-slash line in 216 games is .245/.350/.412, but his numbers away from Petco are .260/.358/.443, which is an impressive line for a catcher in this day and age.

The Cubs were interested in Martin in part because of his pitch framing skills. While accepting that Grandal only caught 76 games last season and small sample size caveats apply, Grandal was better at pitch framing than Martin was last season. According to these stats, Grandal was the eighth-best pitch framer in the majors last season whereas Martin was 10th. (Rene Rivera, the guy Grandal has lost his job to, was fifth-best.)

Grandal was the 12th pick in the 2010 draft by the Reds out of the University of Miami. Coming up through the minors, he was a top 100 prospect who was expected to be a solid hitter with good receiving skills. The Padres acquired him as a part of the Mat Latos trade, although he's never been able to establish himself as the number one guy in San Diego. But at only 25 (26 next season), the upside is still there.

I'm not the only one who thinks that. In an ESPN Insider article, Mike Petriello writes about Grandal as a breakout candidate. He even lists the Cubs as a team that should be interested in Grandal.

There are counter-arguments, of course. For one, Grandal's defense last season wasn't good. He led the league in passed balls with 12 despite only catching 76 games. He only threw out 13% of base runners trying to steal. You can make some excuses for Grandal there. For one, he missed most of 2013 (more on that later) and had to spend a lot of time at first base filling in for the injured Yonder Alonso in 2014. His reputation before last season wasn't that bad.

But then there's this.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Grandal does a few things well but receiving isn&#39;t one of them. Pitchers preferred throwing to Rene Rivera.</p>&mdash; keithlaw (@keithlaw) <a href="">December 1, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Is that something the Cubs could fix? Maybe, although they really haven't been able to fix it with Castillo. But Grandal is younger than Castillo and again, his reputation wasn't bad before last season.

And then there is the 2013 season and the reasons why he barely played. Grandal was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2013 season after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone and was connected to the Biogenesis scandal.

When he returned from suspension, he blew his knee out a month later and missed the rest of the season. He then rushed back to be ready for Opening Day of 2014 as he tried to win his job back. He probably wasn't ready yet and that might explain some of his problems defensively last year. With the knee injury a year farther behind him, it is logical that his offense and defense would improve.

So if the Cubs were interested in getting Grandal, what would it take for the Cubs to land him? The Padres aren't just going to give him away, but he also wouldn't command a top Cubs prospect either. The Padres might take a flyer on a guy in the low-minors with upside (such as Jeferson Mejia), but they would most likely want major league ready talent.

As evidenced by their pursuit of Pablo Sandoval, the Padres need infielders. The good news for the Cubs is that they have a surplus of infield talent. The downside is that the Cubs infield prospects are way too good to part with for Yasmani Grandal. But Luis Valbuena would be a great fit in San Diego and there might be a trade to be made there.

Should the Cubs trade for Grandal? I like him better than their other options at catcher. My biggest concern is whether or not he's enough of an upgrade over Castillo to be worth parting with an important trade chip for. As I said, although you can toss a lot of "buts" in there, Grandal just wasn't a good defensive catcher last season, despite the first-rate pitch framing. And unlike the Padres, the Cubs aren't likely to have first base open if Grandal can't catch.

Still, I like the gamble. Grandal has the kind of upside that a team in the Cubs position should take a chance on. Of course it's going to depend on what it would take to land him, but teams don't win pennants with lots of league average players.  Grandal might bust, but he has a good chance to be at least better than average and maybe even more than that.