Name: J.T. Realmuto
2020 team: Phillies
Age (as of Opening Day 2021): 30
2020 stats: 47 games, .266/.349/.491, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 33 R
There’s no Manny Machado, Bryce Harper or Gerrit Cole to dominate this year’s Hot Stove, but it’s just as noteworthy to have a catcher of Realmuto’s stature on the open market.
Realmuto is widely considered to be the best overall catcher in baseball, having won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in 2019. No less than a half-dozen teams will be in the market for a catcher this offseason, making Realmuto a highly sought-after player once free agency begins.
1) Phillies: There has been plenty of chatter about the Phillies locking up Realmuto to an extension over the past year, yet the catcher is headed to free agency. Given what Philadelphia gave up for Realmuto when it acquired him from the Marlins in February 2019 (Sixto Sánchez led the three-player deal), it’s tough to imagine the Phillies would let him walk away without a strong attempt to retain the two-time All-Star.
2) Yankees: According to sources, the Yankees were open to the idea of trading Gary Sánchez in August, though no deal ultimately came to fruition. Could the Yankees move Sánchez -- who is arbitration-eligible for two more seasons -- and make a play for Realmuto? One catch could be the price tag; the Yankees laid off a number of staffers this season, so it remains to be seen whether they jump back into the deep end of the free-agent pool.
3) Mets: The Mets are expected to decline Wilson Ramos’ $10 million option, leaving them in search of a catcher for 2021. The club’s No. 2 prospect, Francisco Alvarez, turns 19 in November and has just 42 games at A-ball under his belt, so he’s several years away from the Majors. Realmuto has performed well against the Mets during his career (.300/.337/.469), making him an intriguing option as a big offseason splash assuming Steve Cohen is approved as the team’s new owner.
4) Cardinals: Yadier Molina’s three-year, $60 million deal is complete, leaving the 38-year-old’s future in St. Louis up in the air. Molina has expressed the desire to play two more years, but the Cardinals -- who have gotten spoiled by having one of the league’s best catchers for more than a decade -- could be captivated by the idea of replacing Molina with Realmuto, currently considered the best catcher in the game.
5) Angels: Los Angeles spent big last offseason to bring in Anthony Rendon, but the Angels’ pitching continues to be its Achilles' heel. Trevor Bauer is the top starter available this winter, but he could cost more than Realmuto. Might the Angels look to sign Realmuto to add another impact bat while hoping his game-calling skills can help the pitching staff?
6) Nationals: Juan Soto has made his admiration for Realmuto quite public, discussing this season how the two love to chat and talk trash every time Soto steps to the plate against the Phillies. With Kurt Suzuki headed for free agency, the Nationals are in need of a catcher; having played his entire career in the National League East, Realmuto is certainly a well-known commodity in Washington.
“J.T. is arguably the best position player on the free-agent market this winter. He is the best player in the game at his premium defensive position and has the ability to impact the game in just about every way. An above-average offensive performer capable of hitting for average and power with solid speed and instincts on the bases; the swing is compact, has quickness, strength and barrel control. Defensively, he is a super-athletic receiver who has agility, quickness and blocks well. The arm strength is plus, and a quick exchange enables him to control an opposition’s run game. He takes preparation seriously, calls a good game and presents well with good hands.
“The part that is most impressive about Realmuto are the leadership attributes; he seems to command the respect of his teammates based on his work ethic and the consistent energy between the lines. He’s a player who is squarely in his prime, has the body, athleticism and game that should age well in spite of the great demands placed on the defensive position. The off-the-charts makeup and intangibles allow any organization to trust him both on and off the field. Ultimately, J.T. is a cornerstone-type player who is going to consistently perform at an All-Star level conservatively over the next five years.”
Realmuto underwent surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee in September 2019, then missed 10 games this September with a hip issue. Prior to that, his lone injury came in 2018, when he spent the first three weeks of the season on the injured list with a lower back contusion. Catching is the most physically demanding job in baseball, and with Realmuto entering his 30s, it remains to be seen whether his body will start feeling the aches and pains more and more as the years go on.
Realmuto started between 111-130 games behind the plate each year from 2015-19, but he played 36 games at catcher in 2020, starting eight at designated hitter and two at first base. A team signing Realmuto to a long-term deal could have to live with the idea of him moving to first base in the later years, the way Joe Mauer did with the Twins.
FOR COMP'S SAKE
It’s rare to see a star catcher reach free agency in his prime; Yasmani Grandal (four years, $73 million in November 2019), Russell Martin (five years, $82 million in November 2014) and Brian McCann (five years, $85 million in December 2013) are the most recent examples of a backstop cashing in via free agency.
Neither Mauer (eight years, $184 million in March 2010) nor Buster Posey (nine years, $167 million in March 2013) were free agents, but those extensions are more representative of the type of deal Realmuto will be seeking. Mauer’s $23 million average annual value is the highest for any catcher in history, though Realmuto could surpass it this offseason.