It has been five years since Yasmani Grandal was selected for his second All-Star Game and made a memorable — at least to me — “trick shot.”
First, the “trick shot.” It was one of the darndest things that I have seen in 36 years of covering the Pittsburgh Pirates and Major League Baseball.
Grandal was playing for the Brewers in 2019, and I was covering one of their games against the Pirates at Miller Park in Milwaukee. The catcher hit a foul ball into the press box.
Foul balls come into major-league press boxes regularly — except in Pittsburgh, where the press box is approximately 12,000 feet above the PNC Park playing surface — so it was seemingly no big deal.
Someone usually picks the ball up and tosses it to a young fan in the stands. Except this time, none of the assembled media could find the ball.
It was an odd scene where people were looking for an object that had vanished. Two innings later, the mystery was solved when I reached into my computer bag and, surprisingly, found the ball inside.
The odds of Grandal fouling the ball into my bag were long. Yet he did it.
So, how does the disappearing ball story relate to Grandal agreeing to a one-year, $2.5-million contract with the Pirates? Not much, but it is funny.
It was a sidebar to a fine season by Grandal in 2019. He hit .246/.380/.468 with 27 home runs and 100 walks in 155 games. Grandal was also credited with three defensive runs saved.
Grandal has slipped since then, hitting .226/.343/.375 combined over the last four seasons.
In 2023, he had a .234/.309/.339 slash line in 118 games with eight homers for the Chicago White Sox. Rather alarmingly, Grandal finished with minus-11 DRS.
Yet there is little doubt that the Pirates needed to sign Grandal, or someone like him. Despite having four catchers on the 40-man roster, the Pirates are thin at the position.
Endy Rodriguez likely would have been the opening-day catcher. However, he will miss the season after getting injured in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic and undergoing elbow surgery.
Henry Davis is the de facto No. 1 catcher, three years after the Pirates made him the first overall selection in the amateur draft. Yet Davis’ deficiencies scared the Pirates to the point where they moved him to right field in his rookie season last year and used him for just two innings behind the plate.
Jason Delay and Ali Sanchez could both be solid No. 2 catchers, but neither is seemingly suited to being the primary guy.
Thus, Grandal could play a significant role for the Pirates this season.
In a perfect world, Davis will show in spring training that he can be a major-league catcher. Grandal, now 35 and a 12-year veteran, would be a quality backup and mentor.
In an imperfect world, the Pirates will be forced to move Davis back to right field. Grandal would be the No. 1 catcher, and Delay or Sanchez would be the backup.
Either way, Grandal should help even if he is no longer an All-Star-caliber player.
And I will keep my bag open in the press box just in case Grandal pulls off a million-to-one shot for a second time.