At the 2018 MLB All-Star Game, Bryce Harper, then a member of the Washington Nationals, put his cap on then-Miami Marlins’ catcher J.T. Realmuto, suggesting that he wanted his employer to acquire the All-Star catcher.
Ultimately, the two would become teammates the following season, but as members of the Philadelphia Phillies. Realmuto was acquired in a megadeal in February of 2019, a few weeks before Harper signed a 13-year/$330 million deal to come to the Phillies. At his introductory press conference, Harper said Realmuto was his favorite player in baseball. The two immediately became close friends in Philadelphia, not to mention a hell of a one-two punch in the lineup.
So, you can imagine how Harper would feel if his former team, the Nationals, ultimately lands Realmuto in free agency this offseason, despite his season-long campaign for the Phillies to work out a long-term deal with the catcher.
Indeed, Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic says that the Nationals and Realmuto’s agent, Jeff Berry, have engaged in “early discussions” this offseason. The Nationals, theoretically, do have a void at the position, with Kurt Suzuki a free agent as well. That led to an anonymous MLB executive telling Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic earlier this offseason that he believed the Nationals could be a fit for Realmuto.
However, shortly after Rosenthal passed along that nugget, he followed up in an appearance on MLB Network, saying that rather than using the bulk of their resources on one player, the Nationals were likely to “spread the money around” in free agency instead. Despite checking in on Realmuto, Ghiroli echoes what Rosenthal said, calling him “an unlikely fit” given how much money he will command and other needs on the roster.
Earlier this week, Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo pointed to the need to add a corner outfielder and a first baseman, which leads you to believe that while he reportedly is extremely keen on Realmuto, that may not be the path that the team takes this offseason.
A year after winning the World Series, the Nationals finished in a tie with the New York Mets for last place in the National League East. The team will hope for better health from Stephen Strasburg in 2021, but badly missed the offensive production of World Series hero Anthony Rendon, who signed with the Los Angeles Angels last offseason. Juan Soto and Trea Turner performed at superstar levels in 2020, but the team needs significantly more production around them this upcoming season if they hope to compete in a crowded National League East. Part of that may come in the form of internal pieces like Carter Kieboom coming of age, but clearly the Nationals need to make a few external additions to their lineup this offseason.
It will be interesting to see if the Nationals are willing to wait a bit to see how Realmuto’s market develops, something that the New York Mets declined to do. If the Nationals ultimately sense that Realmuto will approach $140 million, perhaps they’ll go in another direction. Such a conclusion may require a team – be it the Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays or someone else – bidding against themselves. If Realmuto’s market ends up being in the five-year/$120 million range, maybe the Nationals would change their tune and attempt to pounce.
The bet here is that Realmuto won’t be suiting up for the Nationals next season, though it really isn’t clear where the Phillies or any other suitors stand currently. So while Harper having to play against Realmuto on the Nationals 19 times a year may not be the most likely outcome, it shouldn’t be discounted entirely.
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