ATLANTA -- Though the Braves were unsuccessful with their attempt to land J.T. Realmuto last offseason and again at this year's July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the time might now be right for them to acquire the highly regarded Marlins catcher.
While the Marlins have not ruled out the possibility of a contract extension, Realmuto's agent Jeff Berry told MLB Network Radio on Tuesday that his client is not interested in discussing remaining with Miami beyond his two arbitration-eligible seasons.
"I think he will definitely be wearing a different uniform by the start of Spring Training," Berry said during the interview.
Over the past few months, the Braves, Phillies and Nationals have been rumored to be among the many teams vying to acquire Realmuto this offseason. Now that former agent Brodie Van Wagenen is the Mets' general manager, there's a good chance the Marlins will be fielding calls from all of their National League East rivals. Van Wagenen just left CAA, the agency that employs Berry.
But Van Wagenen certainly didn't need a previous working relationship with Berry to understand the significant value of Realmuto, who led all Major League catchers this season with 4.8 fWAR (Fangraphs' WAR formula). His 12.3 fWAR since the start of 2016 is 2.3 wins better than Buster Posey and 3.3 better than Yasmani Grandal, who ranks third within that span.
Here are some of the primary reasons it makes sense for the Braves to make another aggressive run at Realmuto:
1. Financial benefits
The Braves enter this offseason with at least $60 million to spend. Their primary needs are adding a catcher, an outfielder and at least one high-leverage reliever. There's also a willingness to upgrade the rotation with a front-line starter. Trading for Realmuto would leave Atlanta with more financial flexibility than signing Grandal, who will likely command an average annual salary of around $13 million in this year's free-agent market.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Realmuto will receive $6.1 million via arbitration this year. Using this figure as the baseline, we can project he might cost $16 million over the next two seasons. That could certainly prove to be a bargain for a strong-armed backstop, who led all qualified catchers with a .825 OPS this past season.
If the Braves do not land Realmuto, they could pursue Wilson Ramos or Jonathan Lucroy, a pair of free agents who would be cheaper than Grandal. Or they could opt to re-sign Kurt Suzuki and pair him with Tyler Flowers for a third straight season. But while Suzuki, Lucroy and Ramos are on the wrong side of 30, the 27-year-old Realmuto is still in his prime.
2. Means to deal
When the Braves discussed Realmuto before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, right-handed pitcher Mike Soroka and third baseman Austin Riley were among the prospects discussed. Now Miami would be offering two fewer months and one fewer playoff run with the catcher. But the demand for Realmuto's services on the trade market will likely keep the cost similar to where it was in July.
This won't necessarily be a problem for the Braves, who have 10 players (eight of whom are pitchers) on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. Atlanta's surplus of MLB-ready arms creates the opportunity to deal from a position of strength. There's a chance the Braves could end up trading the next Jason Schmidt or Adam Wainwright. Or they could prove fortunate by dealing the next Dan Meyer.
Regardless, Atlanta is in a position where the presence of Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson or Joey Wentz could easily compensate for the loss of Touki Toussaint, Kolby Allard or Soroka. Already having Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman within the rotation also serves as an influential variable.
Despite trading Giancarlo Stanton (a financially motivated deal), Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna last offseason, the Marlins do not have a single player on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. Magneuris Sierra and Lewis Brinson graduated from prospect status during less-than-stellar rookie seasons. So there's seemingly a need for Miami to use its last remaining big trade chip to begin fortifying the pipeline.
3. Defensive benefits
When the Braves extended Flowers through next season, they once again prioritized defense, at least from a framing perspective. Suzuki's bat was much more valuable over the past two seasons, but his arm and framing metrics ranked among the game's worst. Flowers' framing numbers dropped slightly as he made some mechanical adjustments to reduce his number of passed balls, but he still ranked among the game's best in this category.
From a framing perspective, Realmuto ranks closer to Suzuki than Flowers. But his arm sets him apart from the game's other catchers.
Per Statcast™, Realmuto's 1.90-second pop time to second base ranked first among MLB catchers (min. 20 attempts). His 87.8 ARM rating ranked second. In comparison, Flowers' 2.14-second pop time to second ranked worst, and Suzuki's 2.08-second pop time ranked third worst.
Having a catcher who can better control the running game should only enhance the value of Foltynewicz, Newcomb and Atlanta's other young pitchers.