Emboldened by their 86-76 finish in 2017, the Milwaukee Brewers poured major resources into their roster last winter to take the final step in an expedited rebuild, trading for Christian Yelich and signing Lorenzo Cain to the biggest free-agent deal in franchise history, all in a 24-hour span.
Those investments paid off handsomely.
With Yelich and Cain combining for 13.3 WAR and the former winning the National League MVP, the Brewers (96-67) won their first division title since 2011 and fell one victory shy of their first pennant in 36 years. Their competitive window was officially opened, just as they hoped, even though - thanks largely to an indomitable bullpen - Milwaukee overperformed its expected record by a not-insignificant five wins.
With the heavy lifting done, then, the Brewers entered this offseason without an extensive to-do list. They only needed to find a new second baseman (which they did, theoretically, with the signing of Cory Spangenberg) and perhaps beef up the rotation (which they haven't). As a famously frugal team that increased its year-over-year payroll more than 36 percent in 2018, they weren't expected to reel in any big names.
Thanks, however, to the increasingly ubiquitous lack of interest among MLB clubs in signing free agents, the Brewers managed to do just that, bringing in an All-Star in the prime of his career without assuming any long-term financial risk.
On Wednesday night, they reportedly agreed to a one-year, $18.25-million deal with catcher Yasmani Grandal, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan, dramatically improving at one of only two positions where Milwaukee didn't have either a legitimate veteran stud or high-upside youngster poised to play in 2019. (Spangenberg fits neither of those descriptions, but the Brewers seem content to roll with him nonetheless.)
It's hard to imagine a free agent other than Bryce Harper or Manny Machado who could better position Milwaukee to repeat as division champs than Grandal, who will likely displace Erik Kratz and bump Manny Pina into a backup role. After all, while his performance in the 2018 postseason may have made him persona non grata in Los Angeles, Grandal remains one of the best catchers in baseball. He's an elite framer who consistently produces at an above-average level offensively, and is pretty good at staying on the field by catcher standards.
Since getting traded to the Dodgers ahead of the 2015 campaign, Grandal ranks third at his position with 11.2 WAR, behind only Buster Posey and J.T. Realmuto, while hitting .238/.337/.453 (116 wRC+) over 128 games per season, on average. Over that span, he also ranks second among catchers in homers (89) and walk rate (12.8 percent), third in isolated power (.215) and expected weighted on-base average (.339), and fifth in games started (429).
Grandal, who turned 30 in November, also enjoyed a monster season in 2018, setting new career-highs in WAR (3.6), wRC+ (125), homers (24), and games played (140) while rating as the majors' most valuable pitch framer, according to Baseball Prospectus, and the best defensive catcher overall.
And all it cost the Brewers to sign him was $18.25 million - less than the Washington Nationals recently guaranteed Anibal Sanchez for two years - and their third-highest pick in the 2019 draft.
In years past, we would've called this deal a bargain. Now, though, as league revenues continue to soar while perfectly good players languish in free agency, we'd be remiss not to frame this deal as an indictment of the current state of baseball, and a disheartening resolution for Grandal given that he reportedly rejected a four-year, $60-million offer from the New York Mets last month.
An optimist might suggest that he stands to recoup that $41.75 million - and then some - in free agency next winter when Grandal is unencumbered by draft-pick compensation. A cynic, however, could point to the two-year, $19-million contract Wilson Ramos just received from the Mets, ahead of his age-31 season, to quash that optimism.
As for the Brewers - who will try to fend off the irrepressible Chicago Cubs and much-improved St. Louis Cardinals in 2019 - they have legitimate grounds for optimism after significantly upgrading behind the plate and adding another solid bat to a lineup that was merely OK last season, finishing with a 99 wRC+ (fourth-best in the NL) largely due to Yelich's MVP-level contributions.
Frankly, the Brewers felt slightly better than the sum of their parts in 2018, with outsized contributions coming from Yelich, Cain, and Josh Hader helping to obscure weaknesses. It's debatable whether catcher was one of them.
When you can just sign Grandal to a pillow contract, though, why even bother debating?
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.