Free-agent catcher James McCann and the New York Mets have agreed to a four-year deal worth just over $40 million, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The Mets were widely considered the favorites to sign J.T. Realmuto heading into the offseason.
Unless another team emerges as a serious suitor, the Phillies are in a prime position to re-sign Realmuto. It wouldn’t be surprising if a team like the Washington Nationals or Toronto Blue Jays got involved in the bidding. The Nationals had an interest in Realmuto before the Phillies ultimately traded for him in 2019. They have a need at catcher and are known to make big splashes in free agency.
The Blue Jays, who are targeting DJ LeMahieu, could turn their attention toward Realmuto if LeMahieu opts to return to the Bronx. They are one of the only teams in the league who have signaled to agents that they intend to be big players on the free-agent market. In the event that they sign Realmuto, the Blue Jays could use their existing catching depth as trade capital to improve other areas of their roster.
The Los Angeles Angels were also in on McCann but it seems unlikely they would be in on Realmuto. They have their sights set on improving their pitching staff and could easily be seen as one of the favorites to sign Trevor Bauer. Realmuto also reportedly has an interest in playing close to home, so the Houston Astros could also be a potential suitor. Maybe the St. Louis Cardinals could find themselves in the race if they lose Yadier Molina.
It’s been evident from the get-go that McCann’s market has been much more robust than Realmuto’s. The Mets, Cardinals, Angels, White Sox, Yankees and Phillies were all interested in McCann, per Jon Heyman of RADIO.COM. His four-year contract indicates that Realmuto should get at least five years but many teams may be turned off at the high price of an elite catcher.
Since being non-tendered by the Detroit Tigers after the 2018 season, McCann has been up there with Realmuto in terms of offensive production. Since 2019, McCann has slashed .276/.334/.474 with 25 home runs and 75 RBIs in 587 plate appearances. In that same time frame, Realmuto has slashed .273/.333/.492 with 36 home runs and 115 RBIs in 788 plate appearances. Realmuto, however, far exceeds McCann in fWAR through the last two seasons (7.4 vs. 3.8). Both made the All-Star team in 2019.
After a dramatic improvement in 2020, McCann (88th percentile) is up there with Realmuto (95th percentile) as one of the best framers in baseball. However, Realmuto’s league-best pop time of 1.89 seconds to second base in 2019 is far better than McCann’s 2.06 seconds. Since 2019, Realmuto has thrown out 43 percent of would-be base stealers to McCann’s 32 percent.
Realmuto is also the fastest catcher in baseball with a 28.2 ft./s sprint speed in 2020. McCann is above average among catchers at 26.1 ft./s but slightly below league-average.
Unlike McCann, Realmuto has a lengthy track record of success. From 2017 to 2019, Realmuto has been worth 15 wins above replacement. McCann, who was at or below replacement value in 2017 and 2018, only began to ascend into the rankings as one of the better backstops in baseball in 2019. The Mets are willing to bet that McCann, who is almost a year older than Realmuto, has a few more years left of his prime.
Realmuto has made it clear that he is looking to reset the catcher’s market. Scott Labuer of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported earlier this year that Realmuto and his camp are eying a contract similar to Paul Goldschmidt’s five-year/$130 million deal with the Cardinals. He certainly wants to break Joe Mauer’s $23 million record average annual value and at the beginning of the offseason, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com mentioned that Realmuto’s camp could aim for a deal worth around $200 million.Embed from Getty Images
With the Mets out and the market beginning to take shape, it’s obvious that Realmuto probably won’t come close to signing a deal in that range. While some of the underlying numbers are similar, we can assume that Realmuto’s price is not only much higher than McCann’s $10 million average-annual value but more than the $18.9 million qualifying offer Realmuto rejected.
But even in the event that the Phillies significantly cut payroll, the team has plenty of cash available to re-sign Realmuto. It’s just a matter of how much ownership is willing to pay to bring back arguably their best player of the past two seasons and if they are willing to sacrifice other positional needs to stick to their self-imposed budget. Even with one of the best GMs the game has ever seen in Dave Dombrowski at the helm, there isn’t a clear path to contention in 2021 if Realmuto is playing on another team, especially with the second-best catching option in McCann off the market.
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