How would J.T. to Braves impact market?

January 24th, 2021

The Phillies may still have the inside edge to sign free-agent catcher , but a new competitor has emerged, and it’s another National League East club.

FanSided’s Robert Murray reported Thursday that the Braves have been “circling on” Realmuto, and MLB Network insider Jon Heyman has heard the same.

It's unclear if Atlanta is actually serious about Realmuto, or if it is merely getting involved to drive up the price for its division rival’s top target. Heyman noted Friday that many see it as a “stretch” that the Braves would go past $100 million for the backstop when they have .

That said, it’s possible Atlanta is planning to sign Realmuto to a long-term deal before placing d’Arnaud on the trade block while his value is at its peak.

d’Arnaud, 31, recorded a .321/.386/.533 slash line (138 OPS+) with nine homers over 44 games in 2020, ranking second in hard-hit rate (57.8%) among MLB players with at least 100 batted balls, but he had a lifetime 96 OPS+ prior to 2020, and he isn’t in Realmuto’s class when it comes to pitch-framing and arm strength. He’s also two years older than Realmuto and has only one year left on the two-year, $16 million deal he signed last offseason.

If the Braves do land Realmuto, the impact could be felt across the market. Here’s a look at the potential fallout of such a move.

How would the Phillies respond?

Seeing Realmuto sign with the Braves would be especially devastating for the Phillies. It would mean that both Realmuto and , the pitching prospect they sent to the Marlins to acquire the catcher prior to the 2019 season, would be in the NL East long term.

The Braves have won the NL East in each of the past three years, while the Phillies haven’t finished better than .500 in that span despite a bevy of blockbuster moves. The Braves haven’t replaced to this point, but they signed and , and they’re getting back from a torn left Achilles after the righty made just three starts in 2020. A Braves deal with Realmuto would put even more distance between the two clubs.

Philadelphia also has watched the Mets get much better this offseason, adding , , , and and re-signing .

The Phillies’ biggest addition of the offseason is reliever . Losing Realmuto would put them in an even tougher spot, as McCann’s deal with the Mets left the free-agent catching market without a viable alternative to the No. 1 option. They could be a fit for d’Arnaud, but the Phillies and Braves haven’t made a trade since they swapped Kevin Millwood and Johnny Estrada in 2002.

Meanwhile, many of the big-ticket players Philadelphia might have considered instead -- such as , and -- are already off the market.

Still, there are some viable options the Phillies could pursue to address their needs. For instance, they could talk to the Cubs about a deal for catcher , who is known to be available.

If that doesn’t work, Philadelphia could sign a lower-cost catcher to pair with and use its remaining resources elsewhere, perhaps on center fielder , shortstop and another pitcher or two.

What would happen with d’Arnaud?

McCann, , , , and all have signed deals, leaving , , , and as the best available free-agent catchers not named Realmuto.

As a result, there could be a solid market for d’Arnaud if Atlanta made him available.

In an appearance on MLB Network on Friday, MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi named the Angels and Blue Jays as potential suitors for d’Arnaud.

Related

New Angels general manager Perry Minasian has history with d’Arnaud, as he was the Braves’ assistant GM before the Halos hired him in December. Before that, Minasian was a scout with the Blue Jays from 2009-17. Toronto acquired d’Arnaud from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay trade the same year Minasian joined the club.

d’Arnaud is owed only $8 million in 2021, so acquiring him wouldn’t necessarily preclude the Angels or the Blue Jays from pursuing other high-priced targets, such as reigning National League Cy Young Award winner .

Mets counter with …

Under new owner Steve Cohen, the Mets have spent the offseason positioning themselves as a serious threat to the Braves in the NL East.

FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projections give the Mets a wins above replacement total of 40.8 in the upcoming season, with the Braves at 34.7.

Realmuto, whom Steamer projects to produce 4.1 fWAR in 2021, would help Atlanta close that gap, but the Mets may still have a big move up their sleeve.

New York has been linked to and , and MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal wrote in an article for The Athletic (subscription required) Friday that the Mets’ focus on Bauer has become “more focused” after New York missed out on Springer.

A Realmuto/Braves union could compel the Mets to seal the deal with the top pitcher on the free-agent market, putting an exclamation point on the team's busy offseason.