J.T. Realmuto: Identifying Five Potential Landing Spots
Among this offseason’s free agent class, J.T. Realmuto is one of the standout names available. Realmuto turns 30 next March and is looking to cash in on his next contract. After officially declining the Qualifying Offer of $18.5 million dollars by the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, Realmuto is free to sign with any team.
Now, the question becomes: which team is the best fit for him? There are a number of teams around the league that would love to have Realmuto as part of their big league roster. After all, he is the best offensive and defensive minded catcher available this offseason.
During the 2020 season over 47 games, Realmuto hit .266/.349/.491. In that span, he had a total of 46 hits, six doubles, 11 home runs, 32 RBI, 16 walks, and 48 strikeouts. Furthermore, his overall defense was very good with a cumulative fielding percentage of .993. When it came to throwing out baserunners, Realmuto had a Caught Stealing Percentage (CS%) of 25% compared to the league average of 24%. If you look at 2019, his CS% was 47% compared to the league average of 26%.
Outside of that, he is also a leader on and off the field which helps to boost his free-agent stock. Realmuto is the type of player that can provide that veteran experience for young players. In addition, he is in the midst of his peak right now.
With all of that being said, here are five potential fits for J.T. Realmuto around major league baseball.
1. Philadelphia Phillies
Although Realmuto and the Philadelphia Phillies didn’t come to terms on a long-term extension, that doesn’t mean the team isn’t interested in retaining his services. As it stands right now, Philadelphia is slated to have an Opening Day catching tandem of Andrew Knapp and Rafael Marchan. For a team with its eyes on contending in 2021, that is a clear area of upgrade. Realmuto would fit perfectly in the mix and a bonus is that he’s already familiar with the team’s pitchers.
With a lot of uncertainty regarding team spending this offseason, it’s hard to predict how much money the Phillies have to spend. However, they are currently projected to have an Opening Day payroll of $127.2 million dollars. That puts them 12th overall in the MLB behind the Cincinnati Reds. Although, it’s important to remember that the Phillies play in a large market and their ownership is not afraid to make a significant splash as illustrated by the Bryce Harper signing from the 2018-2019 offseason.
2. New York Mets
Next on the list of potential landing spots for J.T. Realmuto is the New York Mets. The Mets are in a prime position to spend quite a bit of money this offseason. After officially naming Steve Cohen as their new owner this past week, the Mets have more spending capability than they had before. In addition, New York has an advantage in the case that they are able to potentially outspend other teams around baseball. Catcher is a very distinct need on their roster and Realmuto would certainly upgrade that position significantly.
During the 2020 regular season, the Mets finished the year with a .697 OPS at the catching position. Among the rest of baseball, that put them 12th overall and sixth in the National League. The offense wasn’t the problem for the Mets this past season though. Rather the defense was the issue. As a team, the Mets had a total Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) value of -22 and a Defensive rating of -3.5. That is based on data compiled by FanGraphs. Looking solely at the catching position, Mets catchers combined for a -2 DRS putting them in the bottom third in baseball in that category.
3. New York Yankees
Across the way in The Big Apple, the New York Yankees are another potential destination for J.T. Realmuto. The Yankees have a big question mark behind the dish regarding current starting catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez wrapped up his age-27 season with a .147/.253/.365 slash line over 49 games or 178 plate appearances. That came on the heels of a 2019 campaign in which he was named an All-Star and finished the season with 34 home runs along with 77 RBI over 106 games. There is still a lot of potential in Sanchez, but his future might not necessarily be in pinstripes with the Yankees.
If the team does decide to use him as a trade chip, Realmuto would be the perfect fit. One potential pitfall for the Yankees though relates to payroll. Although their ownership is willing to invest in the team heavily, the team has the second-highest projected Opening Day payroll in baseball right now at $168 million dollars. If you take into consideration the organization’s entire competitive balance payroll, it falls $740,476 dollars short of the $210 million dollar luxury tax threshold.
4. Cincinnati Reds
On paper, the Cincinnati Reds might not seem like an obvious suitor for J.T. Realmuto. However, the team has had interest in the free agent catcher in the past. In fact, during the 2018-2019 offseason when Realmuto was a member of the Miami Marlins, the Marlins and Reds were discussing potential trade packages involving some of Cincinnati’s top prospects. Those individuals included the likes of: Nick Senzel, Taylor Trammell (former Reds prospect), Hunter Greene, and Jonathan India. At the time, the Reds felt as though that was too steep of an asking price for two-years of control of Realmuto.
Now that he is a free agent though, there still could be some interest there. Right now, the Reds would open the season with a catching tandem of Curt Casali and Tucker Barnhart. If the team did come to an agreement with Realmuto, it would likely leave him and Barnhart as the two primary options behind the dish. Furthermore, the Reds could use the offense that Realmuto provides as well. After adding Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos last offseason, the Reds hit .212/.312/.403 over the 60-game sample.
5. St. Louis Cardinals
As things stand right now, the St. Louis Cardinals do not have a single catcher on their depth chart. If you expand that to the 40-man roster, the organization currently has one catcher on there: Andrew Knizner. Obviously, for a team that is looking to contend in 2021 and wants to make noise in the National League Central, an upgrade behind the dish needs to happen. Now, Yadier Molina who just wrapped up his 17th major league season with the Cardinals is also a free agent. Therefore, there is mutual interest on both sides to bring him back and let him finish his career where it originally stated.
With that being said though, if Molina finds himself in a new uniform with a different organization, Realmuto is no doubt the next best option for the Cardinals. He might not have the same value to the organization that Molina does, but he would still bring that veteran leadership to the team. In addition, the free agent catcher knows how to call a good game and get the most out of pitchers. Therefore, if St. Louis does go down this road, Realmuto could possibly make the pitching staff even better. That is no discredit to what Yadier Molina has done in any regard. Last season, Cardinals pitchers finished the year with a 3.90 ERA over 473 innings.
Final Thoughts on J.T. Realmuto
In the end, an argument can be made for each of the five aforementioned teams to pursue and sign J.T. Realmuto. However, given his status in free agency and the fact that he has easily been the game’s best catcher both offensively and defensively, there could be a handful of other teams that covet him. Every single year in free agency, there is always a team or two that comes out of nowhere and pursues a player in the role of a “dark horse.” That could certainly happen in this case.
For instance, consider the Atlanta Braves for a moment. Atlanta currently has one catcher on their depth chart and he’s an awfully talented one: Travis d’Arnaud. However, the Braves also realize that they need to upgrade their pitching staff but have internal options especially when Mike Soroka comes back healthy. With that being said, does Atlanta pursue Realmuto and feel as though he would upgrade their pitching staff? Only time will tell. Regardless, it’s one of the more interesting teams around baseball that could be that “dark horse.”
No matter where J.T. Realmuto signs, the team that gets him will certainly feel good about their investment. Now, in order to sign him, that team is going to have to invest a significant amount of money likely over a team that spans five or six years. With the uncertainty from a financial standpoint moving forward, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Although, one thing is for certain and that’s the idea that Realmuto will bring plenty of positive traits to his new team.
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