As MLB’s “Hot Stove” ambles into January, all of the big-ticket free agents remain unsigned.
It was expected that J.T. Realmuto would not ink a new deal quickly. He seeks a record contract for catchers in terms of average annual value and his representation is likely finding it difficult treading as teams pull back on players’ salaries in response to the pandemic.
The Phillies are one of those teams, and despite conflicting reports of offers made and not made to Realmuto’s camp, most observers believe Philadelphia remains the perfect fit for the best catcher in baseball. It makes too much sense for him to return, both for Realmuto, who likely sees the Phils as a contender in the next 2-3 years and reportedly enjoyed his two years in Philly, and the Phils, who know they need him as much if not more than anyone else.
Nevertheless, other teams will enter the fray and make offers. With that in mind, who could be the Phillies’ main competition for Bryce Harper’s best buddy?
With the New York Mets out of the picture, the Nationals make a ton of sense, if they’re willing to spend the money.
Yan Gomes is the incumbent but he could become the back-up if general manager Mike Rizzo decides to make a big splash, and what a gut wrenching move it would be. Imagine Realmuto catching Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin and in the middle of a lineup anchored by Juan Soto and Trea Turner. Yes, Washington has a number of holes and, like the Phillies, are a bit top-heavy, but the Nats have been known to go out of their way to sign former Phillies stars/targets and would love nothing more than to break our hearts once again.
This move scares me the most.
The Blue Jays are one of the few teams looking to spend this off-season and are already players for free agents George Springer and DJ LeMahieu. If they fail to land either stud, they could turn their attention to Realmuto.
Danny Jansen would be the starter if the season began today, so J.T. would be a real upgrade. And lest we forget, Toronto finished 3rd in the AL East last year and made the expanded playoffs, with talented youngsters Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. coming into their own.
If Realmuto wants to get a sniff of the playoffs, the Blue Jays could be the place to finally get him there. And they’re the most likely to give him the record-breaking contract he’s seeking, too. But would Realmuto want to play in Canada?
The Yankees are always scary in the off-season, even ones in which they would seemingly have their interests piqued elsewhere.
At the moment, they need a ton of help in the starting rotation and are focused on re-signing LeMahieu. They also have the inconsistent Gary Sanchez at catcher and, while he’s more likely to end up a designated hitter in the near future, they also are paying big money to Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, two players who also need to see time at DH. There simply may not be a good spot for Realmuto in New York, although a Sanchez trade would clear the decks quickly.
The Cardinals are moving on from Yadier Molina. After 17 years and 2,025 games behind the dish, St. Louis’ starting catcher, as of now, is Andrew Knizner, who has 26 big league games to his name. He posted a solid offensive season at AAA Memphis in 2019 when he batted .276/.357/.463 as a 24-year-old, but he’s raw and inexperienced.
With the Cubs shedding players and payroll like crazy, there’s an opportunity for St. Louis to make a move in the NL Central after they finished 2nd last year and made the postseason with a 30-28 record. Realmuto would be a huge addition, but will St. Louis spend any money? Likely not, otherwise they’d shoot to the top of these rankings with a great deal of aggression.
So Martin Maldonado is a pretty awful offensive catcher and there’s no doubt Realmuto would be a monster upgrade for a team that is still a World Series contender, even without Springer. However, given the fact Houston is letting Springer walk, it’s hard to imagine them turning around and spending big cash on J.T.
The only reason the Dodgers are on this list is because they’re the Dodgers and they seemingly do whatever they want. They don’t care about the money, they buy whatever they need and use their surplus of top prospects to trade for what they don’t have.
One of those former prospects is their catcher, Will Smith, who was one of the best offensive catchers in baseball last season. However, Smith struggled to handle the pitching staff in the postseason, so while they don’t have a “need” at that position, you never can rule out the defending world champs doing something sneaky and super-smart.
Texas is close to Realmuto’s home in Oklahoma, although it’s rare for proximity to a player’s place of residence to be the motivating factor for signing somewhere.
The Rangers are bad and they’re going to be bad for a little while. With a projected payroll of $65.6 million that ranks 22nd in MLB, the Rangers could certainly afford him, but if Realmuto wants to make the postseason before he’s too old to catch, he should probably look elsewhere. And given where Texas is in their rebuild, this doesn’t feel like much of a match.
At the end of the day, none of these teams is as perfect a match as the Phillies. But all it takes is for one of these teams to make a trade or one of these owners to open the wallet, and Realmuto’s future will exist in a different city for the next half-decade.
On the latest edition of Hittin’ Season, I talked about Realmuto’s future with Justin Klugh and Liz Roscher, as well as the Phillies bullpen in 2021 and MLB.com’s first power rankings of the season. Check it out and subscribe!