Will Braves make a run at Realmuto?

January 21st, 2021

Instead of answering questions with a Braves Inbox every week, we will occasionally publish this What I’m Thinking series. Here is the second edition.

ATLANTA -- After George Springer and Michael Brantley agreed to their respective deals this week, there was reason to reassess who the Braves might get with their pursuit of a power hitter. But thoughts of entering the conversation seemed unlikely.

So, on Thursday morning, it was somewhat surprising to see FanSided’s Robert Murray report the Braves are “circling on free agent J.T. Realmuto.” But given the scarcity of power hitters available, this option does make sense, despite the fact Atlanta veteran catcher Travis d’Arnaud has another year remaining on his contract.

Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos didn’t allow Johan Camargo’s presence to deter him from signing Josh Donaldson two years ago. Like when Donaldson signed, the primary need is to land an impact bat.

So, the fact the target was assumed to be either a left fielder or a third baseman doesn’t erase the possibility Anthopoulos would add a catcher, especially when given a chance to land Realmuto, who currently stands as the premier option at a premium position.

With Springer now a Blue Jay and Brantley back with the Astros, Realmuto is one of the most attractive, non-DH, impact bats on the free-agent market. The next-best options in terms of position players would be 36-year-old third baseman Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig and Adam Duvall.

If the universal designated hitter will once again be used, it may make more sense to go with or Nelson Cruz. But as Anthopoulos attempts to construct his roster without any clarity about the DH plans, he has no choice but to at least evaluate how Realmuto might fit.

MLB Network’s Jon Heyman recently reported that the Phillies have offered Realmuto a five-year deal worth approximately $110 million. The Braves have the financial means necessary to make a similar offer.

But does it make sense to commit $22 million per year to a soon-to-be 30-year-old catcher when rising prospects William Contreras or Shea Langeliers could be ready to replace d’Arnaud, who is entering the last season of his two-year, $16 million deal?

It begins to make more sense when you start to evaluate the lineup with the assumption it will not include a DH. Using current pieces, you might come up with a projection that looks like this: Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, d’Arnaud, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, Ender Inciarte and Cristian Pache.

After spending the past two years watching Freeman benefit from Donaldson and Ozuna hitting behind him, the Braves recognize the potential importance of adding another power hitter, preferably one who hits right-handed.

As things currently stand, Realmuto is one of the few available players who fits that description. So, maybe that the Braves are “circling” on the free-agent catcher shouldn’t be too surprising.

DH ruling may not be deciding factor on Ozuna
In a recent MLB.com story, four of six writers polled predicted Ozuna will end up back with the Braves, even if the universal DH is not used again. That’s certainly not ridiculous given the Braves signed the veteran outfielder to a one-year, $18 million deal last year, long before anyone could have guessed National League teams would be using the DH.

When the options are limited and you’re evaluating arguably the top option, it might be easier to overlook Ozuna’s defensive shortcomings. But if entering what would almost certainly be a multiyear deal, you may want to at least have strong confidence the universal DH would exist by the start of 2022.

Could Swanson, Soroka be locked up to multiyear deals?
After it was learned that the inability to reach an agreement would lead to the scheduling of arbitration hearings for and , an immediate response from some fans was: "Could the Braves sign either or both to a multiyear deal?"

For Soroka, the question is how either side can confidently project a value through the first 37 starts of a career, which already includes two injury-shortened seasons. If Soroka makes a successful return from the torn Achilles and mirrors 2019’s greatness, there will still be a chance for the team to buy out three of his arbitration seasons.

As for Swanson, before agreeing to a value, it would seemingly be in his best interest to attempt to build on the offensive promise he showed during the first half of 2019 and throughout the 60-game 2020 season. These next two seasons could set him up for a nice payday.

Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Brandon Crawford, Javier Báez and Carlos Correa form the incredibly strong group of shortstops who will be free agents next offseason. Swanson and Tim Anderson stand as the top two shortstops who would be available after the 2022 season