Ranking the Chances for Every MLB Team to Land J.T. Realmuto in Free Agency
Ranking the Chances for Every MLB Team to Land J.T. Realmuto in Free Agency
J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball and arguably the top overall free agent in this year's class beyond NL Cy Young front-runner Trevor Bauer.
The 29-year-old hit .266/.349/.491 for a 123 OPS+ this season with 11 home runs and 32 RBI, and he is just a year removed from winning Gold Glove honors.
Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported in February that Realmuto had his sights set on becoming the highest-paid catcher in MLB history based on average annual value. That distinction belongs to Joe Mauer, who earned $23 million per year from 2011 to 2018 after signing an extension with the Minnesota Twins.
Yasmani Grandal signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Chicago White Sox as the top catcher on the market last offseason, and Realmuto should have no trouble blowing past that deal.
Assuming he is not impacted by a slow-moving market, a five-year, $125 million contract is not out of the question, and there figures to be a number of teams in the mix for his services.
With the start of free agency right around the corner, let's take a preliminary look at how all 30 teams stack up as landing spots for Realmuto this offseason based on their financial flexibility, need in the starting rotation and status as contenders.
Not in the Market for a Catcher
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
Even in a world where Realmuto is inexplicably interested in joining the Pirates, there's a 0 percent chance ownership would meet his asking price. Incumbent catcher Jacob Stallings was also one of the few bright spots in 2020, finishing second on the team in WAR with 0.9.
29. Baltimore Orioles
Adley Rutschman is the best catching prospect in baseball and the future face of the franchise. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft has played just 37 minor league games, but he could be in the big leagues by 2022 thanks to his polished all-around game.
28. Oakland Athletics
Sean Murphy has given every indication that he will be the catcher of the present and future in Oakland after posting a 131 OPS+ as a rookie. Regardless, the Athletics will be priced out of the Realmuto market before the first offer is made.
27. Los Angeles Dodgers
Will Smith is 25 years old, under team control through the 2025 season and a true rising star at the position. The Dodgers farm system also features two of the best catching prospects in baseball in Keibert Ruiz and Diego Cartaya.
26. San Francisco Giants
The rebuilding Giants used the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft to select their catcher of the future in Joey Bart, and he held his own over 33 games in 2020 after Buster Posey opted out of the season. If they spend, it will likely be on pitching.
25. Chicago White Sox
It's hard to envision the White Sox pouring more money into the catcher position after signing Grandal last winter.
24. San Diego Padres
The Padres paid a steep price to acquire Austin Nola last summer, and he's under club control through the 2025 season. They also have offensive-minded Francisco Mejia on the MLB roster and top prospect Luis Campusano knocking on the door in the minors.
23. Atlanta Braves
The Braves have a pair of elite catching prospects in Shea Langeliers and William Contreras, and an awfully good incumbent in Travis d'Arnaud, who's set to enter the second season of a two-year, $16 million contract.
Not a Clear Fit
22. Miami Marlins
Realmuto did not leave Miami on the best terms after he was sort of the last man standing following the new ownership group's fire sale. The Marlins have a good young core and look like a team on the rise, but it's hard to envision a reunion.
21. Kansas City Royals
The four-year, $72 million extension given to Alex Gordon stands as the largest contract in Royals history, and it's going to take a lot more than that to sign Realmuto. It's more likely they pursue an extension with Salvador Perez, who returned strong from a lost 2019 season (Tommy John surgery) and is entering the final year of his contract.
20. Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-backs are one of the hardest teams in baseball to nail down in terms of the direction of the franchise. Despite trading Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke, they tried to remain competitive, and after spending big on Madison Bumgarner and trading for Starling Marte last offseason, they fell well short of expectations. Carson Kelly and the versatile Daulton Varsho have enough upside to assume they'll steer clear of Realmuto.
19. Chicago Cubs
All-Star catcher Willson Contreras was shopped last winter, and the Cubs could revisit those trade talks this offseason as they start to retool. Maybe there's a situation in which he's flipped for starting pitching help, and then the Cubs make a run at Realmuto to replace him, but that seems unlikely.
18. Boston Red Sox
Now that the luxury tax has been reset, and after a wildly disappointing 2020 season, the Red Sox could look to make a splash of some sort. There are more pressing needs than catcher with Christian Vazquez signed through 2021 with a club option for 2022, but a run at Realmuto can't be ruled out.
17. Minnesota Twins
With Nelson Cruz headed for free agency, perhaps the Twins will consider shifting Mitch Garver into the DH role. Rookie Ryan Jeffers had a 118 OPS+ in 62 plate appearances last season and could be first in line for the catching job if that move is made, but Realmuto would be a potentially game-changing addition for a team on the cusp. Is the money there?
16. Texas Rangers
The Rangers are planning on cutting payroll this year, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. That doesn't line up with the idea of handing out a massive contract in free agency, even if the catcher position has been a revolving door since the days of Ivan Rodriguez in the 1990s and early 2000s.
15. Tampa Bay Rays
Despite his strong postseason, the Rays declined their $4.5 million club option on Mike Zunino after he hit .161/.233/.323 for a 49 OPS+ the past two seasons. That leaves a void behind the plate, and prospect Ronaldo Hernandez is not ready to take over in 2021, so something will need to be done. Given the tight purse strings, someone like James McCann or Jason Castro is a more likely target.
14. Cleveland Indians
If the Indians can't come to terms on a new deal for homegrown superstar Francisco Lindor heading into his contract year, it's hard to imagine they'll pony up to sign Realmuto. Roberto Perez had his $5.5 million club option for 2021 exercised, and he has a $7 million option in 2022. That might be enough to bridge the gulf to prospect Bo Naylor. Otherwise, a stopgap is the likely approach.
13. Milwaukee Brewers
Omar Narvaez flopped badly as a replacement for the departed Grandal, leaving catcher as a major question mark for the Brewers heading into 2021. Prospect Mario Feliciano hit .270/.323/.473 with 25 doubles, 19 home runs and 81 RBI in 2019 while reaching Double-A, and he could be the future at the position. It's unlikely they'll be able to fit Realmuto into the budget, even if he would be a major upgrade.
12. Toronto Blue Jays
Danny Jansen is a terrific defensive catcher who has not yet lived up to expectations offensively, hitting .201/.288/.360 for a 74 OPS+ over the past two seasons. Prospect Alejandro Kirk is MLB-ready offensively, but he may fit best at DH long term, and fellow prospect Gabriel Moreno is just 20 years old and has not played above Single-A. Pitching will be the No. 1 focus for the Blue Jays this offseason, but don't rule out a run at Realmuto.
11. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are building toward something special with a loaded farm system and some solid core pieces in Marco Gonzales and Kyle Lewis. Cal Raleigh hit .251/.323/.497 with 29 home runs and 82 RBI in 2019 over two minor league levels after going in the third round of the 2018 draft, but questions remain about his defensive skills behind the plate. The front office might not be ready to dive into the deep end of free agency just yet, but Realmuto is the type of player who could expedite the rebuild.
10. St. Louis Cardinals
Will Yadier Molina return to St. Louis? The 38-year-old is a free agent for the first time, and while he has expressed interest in re-signing (via his brother Benji), it could be time for a change. Andrew Knizner is an in-house option to start, and prospect Ivan Herrera has rapidly climbed the team's top prospect list, but Realmuto would provide the stability behind the dish they have grown accustomed to in Molina's 17 seasons.
9. Colorado Rockies
Quick, name the best catcher in Colorado Rockies franchise history. I went with Chris Iannetta when I put together each franchise's all-time lineup earlier this year, ahead of a star-studded group that included Joe Girardi, Jeff Reed, Wilin Rosario and Kirt Manwaring. The front office has shown a sporadic willingness to spend, and Realmuto would be a massive upgrade over Tony Wolters, but Colorado's lack of organizational direction could be a roadblock.
8. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have one of the best defensive catchers in baseball in Tucker Barnhart signed through 2021 with a club option for 2022, and they have one baseball's top catching prospects in Tyler Stephenson. That said, their complete lack of offensive punch proved to be their undoing in the postseason, and Realmuto would be a game-changing addition to a franchise itching to contend.
7. Detroit Tigers
Who better to anchor an exciting young pitching staff than a Gold Glove receiver like Realmuto? Stability at catcher will be paramount as the Tigers build toward contention, and a long-term deal for Realmuto would definitively shore up the position. Unless the defensive-minded Jake Rogers takes a huge step forward, there's no clear long-term answer in the minors, and with Jordan Zimmermann ($25M) coming off the books, there's money to spend.
If Realmuto is willing to be patient and serve as a foundational part of a rebuild, this could be a great fit for everyone involved.
6. Houston Astros
Will the Houston Astros attract any marquee free agents this offseason with the cloud of their sign-stealing scandal still hanging over them?
Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philly reported that the belief is Realmuto will go wherever the "record-setting money is" as he looks to become the highest-paid catcher in MLB history.
Defensive standout Martin Maldonado caught 47 games in 2020, hitting .215/.350/.378 with six home runs and 24 RBI in one of the better offensive seasons of his career. The 34-year-old will earn $3.5 million in 2021 in the final season of a two-year, $7 million deal.
Behind him, 27-year-old Garrett Stubbs has hit .186/.250/.256 in 49 plate appearances the past two seasons, and he is the only other backstop on the 40-man roster.
Korey Lee is the top catching prospect in the system after going No. 32 in the 2019 draft, and he checks in as the No. 7 prospect in the farm system. He has a bright future, but he has also yet to make his full-season debut and is multiple years away.
With the starting rotation likely to get much younger when Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke reach free agency after the 2021 season, Realmuto would be a valuable leader for the staff along with his excellent offensive production.
5. New York Yankees
There's a real chance the New York Yankees pull the plug on Gary Sanchez as their starting catcher this offseason, and if that happens, Realmuto will shoot to the top of their offseason shopping list.
Sanchez hit .147 with a 36 percent strikeout rate and a 69 OPS+ this season, and he led the American League with five passed balls allowed.
"He didn't look like he was recognizing the ball," one scout told Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. "He was swinging at pitches that were not in his zone at all."
The 27-year-old was then benched for backup Kyle Higashioka in the postseason, starting just two of the team's seven playoff games.
There would be multiple teams willing to buy low on Sanchez if he were placed on the trade block; otherwise he would become a nontender candidate after his salary was set at $5 million in his first year of arbitration last offseason.
Given the team's need to re-sign DJ LeMahieu and focus on improving the starting rotation, Realmuto might not be the No. 1 priority, but the Yankees still have to be considered legitimate suitors.
4. Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals have veteran Yan Gomes under contract for 2021 in the second season of a two-year, $10 million contract.
Beyond that, there's no obvious plan at catcher.
Gomes, 33, posted a 107 OPS+ in 119 plate appearances while platooning with Kurt Suzuki, who is now a free agent. The pair caught 30 games each, and no one else saw a single inning behind the dish.
Tres Barrera (No. 15) and Israel Pineda (No. 23) are the only catching prospects ranked among the team's top 30, according to Baseball America. Barrera is 26 years old and profiles as organizational depth, while Pineda is a raw 20-year-old who has yet to play above Single-A.
Without a clear long-term solution at the position, splurging on Realmuto would make sense.
The decision to decline club options on Anibal Sanchez ($12M), Adam Eaton ($10.5M), Howie Kendrick ($6.5M) and Eric Thames ($4M) will save the team significant money, even after they are paid a combined $6.75 million in buyouts.
There's enough talent on the Nationals for them to contend in 2021, despite a wildly disappointing 2020 season, and Realmuto could be the missing piece.
3. Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels need to focus on improving their starting rotation.
Then again, the same thing was true last offseason, and they ended up signing third baseman Anthony Rendon to a seven-year, $245 million contract.
If they spend on the position-player side once again this winter, catcher is the most obvious area to upgrade.
Veteran Jason Castro began the season as the team's starter after signing a one-year, $6.85 million contract last offseason. He was eventually traded to the San Diego Padres, and Max Stassi handled the bulk of the catching duties the rest of the way, with Anthony Bemboom backing him up.
Stassi, 29, hit .278/.352/.533 for a 139 OPS+ in 105 plate appearances while grading out as a quality pitch-framer. He is under control through 2022 and stands as the team's projected starting catcher for the upcoming season.
Adding Realmuto would push Stassi into a backup role and either make him a valuable trade chip or set up a Grandal-McCann type embarrassment of riches behind the plate.
First and foremost, the Angels need to find another front-line starter to pair with Dylan Bundy, but that doesn't mean a run at Realmuto is out of the question.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
"According to a person close to Realmuto, the catcher, an Oklahoma native, would like to remain in Philadelphia," wrote Salisbury.
That's certainly a more promising outlook than the Astros have with George Springer after an initial report that he flat-out "does not want to return" to the team, per Patrick Creighton of ESPN 970.
At the same time, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt this early in the offseason before other suitors have had a chance to make their pitches.
Regardless of where Realmuto's preferences lie, it would make sense for the Phillies to be all-in on bringing him back considering what it cost to acquire him.
Young right-hander Sixto Sanchez was the centerpiece of the package they sent the Miami Marlins for Realmuto in February 2019. He delivered on his top-prospect status in his first taste of the majors this year and looks like a budding ace.
Meanwhile, the Phillies didn't even get a postseason appearance out of their two seasons of Realmuto, and they shipped out young catcher Jorge Alfaro, now 27, in the trade as well.
The farm system has a lot of young, low-level catching talent, led by 21-year-old Rafael Marchan, who profiles as a defensive-minded regular who would benefit from a few more years of minor league development.
If Realmuto walks, the Phillies will need to find a replacement, so locking him up and continuing forward with the best all-around catcher in baseball will be a top priority this winter.
1. New York Mets
It's a whole new ballgame for the New York Mets now that billionaire Steve Cohen owns the team.
With an influx of cash for the organization at a time when other teams are cutting costs left and right, the Mets are in the driver's seat to make a splash this offseason.
There's no bigger need than catcher.
Veterans Wilson Ramos ($10M) and Robinson Chirinos ($6.5M) both had their options declined earlier this week, leaving the team without a proven backstop.
Tomas Nido, Ali Sanchez and Patrick Mazeika are in-house options on the 40-man roster, but they all profile best as backups or organizational depth.
One way or another, the Mets will have to add a starting catcher this offseason, and Realmuto has enjoyed plenty of success facing off against them while spending his entire career in the NL East.
In 86 career games against the Mets, he has hit .300/.337/.469 with nine home runs and 47 RBI, and that includes a .321/.360/.500 line with six long balls in 44 games at Citi Field.
It's a chance for the Mets to take a star player away from a division rival, a chance to potentially show up the Yankees and a chance to vastly improve the team's short- and long-term outlooks.
If the Mets are going to make a headline-grabbing move, this is it.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.