Blue Jays’ interest in Grandal offers glimpse into off-season approach

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Milwaukee Brewers' Yasmani Grandal hits a single. (Morry Gash/AP)

More than anything else, the Toronto Blue Jays need starting pitching. These days, that’s where the front office spends much of its time. Eventually, it’ll be where they spend most of their money.

But alongside their need for pitching, the Blue Jays are also looking to improve their position-player core. Understanding that market is a must for any team, especially for a club now listening to offers on its own position players.

It’s with that context in mind that we turn to Yasmani Grandal, the top catcher available in free agency. As first reported by ESPN, the Blue Jays showed interest in him at the GM Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week. In fact, it appears that Grandal, who lives nearby in Peoria, Ariz., was one of the players who met with the Blue Jays in person.

At first glance, the connection seems surprising. But upon closer inspection, this interest makes more sense. In some ways, it even offers a glimpse into the Blue Jays’ wide-reaching off-season approach.

First, some caveats. The Blue Jays check on all kinds of free agents, so a meeting doesn’t necessarily equate to serious interest.

Even as they check in on position players, Toronto remains focused on pitching. The front office expects to start by adding arms, at which point they’ll have a better sense of how much they can spend elsewhere.

And, even though the Blue Jays are listening to offers for Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, they aren’t close to trading either one. No team appears to have seriously tempted the Blue Jays to this point, so it’s not as though a void behind the plate’s on the brink of opening up.

But yes, the Blue Jays are interested. Who wouldn’t be?

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“I’m sure a lot of teams have interest in Yasmani Grandal,” GM Ross Atkins said Thursday before leaving the GM Meetings. “You could paint a similar picture that I could paint based on his performance and things that have happened in the past and where he’s been and what he’s done.”

OK, let’s paint it. At the plate, Grandal’s a switch-hitter with a lifetime .348 on-base percentage. He has four consecutive seasons with at least 22 homers, including 28 last year. By FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement, he has five straight seasons of 4.0-plus WAR. Defensively he’s durable with well-regarded framing skills and the versatility to play first base. He has played for winners, he just turned 31 and he’s not linked to draft-pick compensation.

All told, it’s a truly appealing combination. But chances are the Reds, Mets, Astros, Angels, Rays and Brewers all think so, too, and those teams don’t have two catchers of their own available in-house.

Realistically, the chances of the Blue Jays becoming the high bidder on Grandal seem low, but unlikely isn’t impossible. There are also scenarios where they do become motivated to add Grandal.

Hypothetically speaking, the Blue Jays could add pitching at a lower cost than expected. They could then sign Grandal to catch and play first while optioning McGuire to start the season.

Or, if a rival team makes a more enticing offer for one of Toronto’s young catchers, the Blue Jays would be more motivated to replenish catching depth. Perhaps at that point they’d turn to Grandal.

Again, those possibilities now seem remote. Read into the Blue Jays’ interest at your own risk. But like any front office looking for improved offence, they owe it to themselves to explore the possibility, even if it never leads to a deal.

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