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Perrotto: Money No Longer Motivation for Yasmani Grandal

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BRADENTON, Fla. – My first inclination is to roll my eyes when I hear anyone in professional sports say it’s not about the money.

Of course, it’s about the money. It always is. It’s pro sports and no one plays for free.

However, in Yasmani Grandal’s case, maybe it isn’t all about the money.

Oh, the veteran catcher won’t be on the streets this year as the Pittsburgh Pirates will pay him $2.5 million on a one-year contract he signed as a free agent earlier in the week. However, Grandal is taking a steep cut from his $18.25 million salary of last season when he finished a four-year, $73-million deal with the Chicago White Sox.

It is easy to wonder why a 35-year-old two-time All-Star who plays the most demanding position in baseball would want to keep playing at his age after making an estimated $111 million during a 14-year career.

Grandal admits “I’ve had my career” but keeps going for one simple reason — he still likes playing baseball.

“I love competition, that’s just me,” Grandal said before a spring training workout at Pirate City. “The competitor in me says you can go out and play 162 (games). The body, by the end of the year, not so much. I’m a competitor and I love the daily routine of how to figure out how to win. That’s what keeps me going.”

The White Sox had a miserable season last year, finishing 61-101. The Pirates were 76-86 and are seemingly on the rise but it seems an odd situation for a veteran to embrace.

Grandal, though, didn’t have a lot of choices.

“I just like the opportunity, period. I’m excited to be here and happy to be here,” said Grandal, a two-time All-Star. “This is an up-and-coming team that did pretty good last year, so hopefully I can just help as much as I can.”

The Pirates have an inexperienced group of catchers as Jason Delay, Henry Davis and Ali Sanchez have played 181 games combined in the major leagues. Endy Rodriguez was expected to be the opening-day catcher, but the 23-year-old will miss the season after injuring his right elbow playing winter ball in his native Dominican Republic and undergoing surgery.

Grandal figures to begin the season as the Pirates’ primary catcher while being backed up by one of the other three. He hopes to be a mentor to others at the position.

“I’ve had my career, and those guys are just getting started,” Grandal said. “If I can help them in any way, that’s No. 1. Everything else is about trying to win and helping them do a good job behind the plate whenever I’m not there. The catching group is one of the most important groups on a team, so anything I can do for them to help them develop and become their own, I’ll gladly do it.”

Grandal believes he owes it to the younger guys to pay it forward. Grandal didn’t have that person in his career until after his third major-league season when the Dodgers acquired him from the San Diego Padres in a trade.

He came under the tutelage of Dodgers catcher instructor Steve Yeager, who caught in the big leagues for 15 years from 1972-86.

“What I am today is pretty much built through trials and experiments, I guess,” Grandal said. “I wish I had somebody that could have taken me under their wing and show me the ropes. I don’t want other guys to go through the same thing, so if I can do that for them, that’s a good thing.”

The Pirates weren’t looking for a catcher when the offseason began. However, general manager Ben Cherington was forced into action following Rodriguez’s injury in November and he is happy to have landed Grandal despite his minus-11 defensive runs saved last season.

“We looked at a lot of different ways to do that,” Cherington said of adding catching depth. “Ultimately, Grandal was the one that fit best for us. Excited to get to know Yas. The reputation he has is he’s an incredibly hard worker, takes game preparation really seriously, and has a really high standard for competition. A bit of edge around expecting to win, and that’s an element that we want to bring into our team.”

Just as importantly, Grandal still loves what he’s doing. Even at a discounted price.

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