We’re into January and J.T. Realmuto isn’t much closer to signing a free agent deal than he was in September. The New York Mets, who were arguably his best option, are out and as things stand, the Phillies are the clear-cut favorites to sign the best catcher in baseball.
The Phillies need Realmuto. There are no sufficient internal replacements and most of the external options available are more suitable for a platoon role. If they want to compete in 2021 and beyond, signing Realmuto will put them on the right path.
Realmuto needs the Phillies. While his market could develop in the next few weeks, no other team besides the Phillies has a gaping hole at catcher and a willingness to spend big bucks on the position. The Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays have been connected to Realmuto but it’s hard to imagine either of those teams outbidding the Phillies.
Realmuto’s asking price has been as high as $200 million at some point. That’ll have to come down if he wants a long-term deal in this market but back in June, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported that the team is willing to pay Realmuto in the neighborhood of $23 million a year, which would tie Joe Mauer’s AAV record for a catcher. It’s unclear if the Phillies are still willing to meet that price and whether Realmuto is still looking for a deal that’s significantly more lucrative.
From a fan perspective, it could be hard to feel confident in the Phillies’ ability to re-sign the star catcher. A pessimistic outlook as a fan of a team who is tied for the fifth-longest current playoff drought in North American professional sports is completely valid.
Is there a chance Realmuto signs elsewhere? Of course. Here are a few plausible scenarios that end in Realmuto leaving Philadelphia.
Phillies sign a second-tier catching option out of nowhere
There’s been some movement within the second-tier catching market. James McCann signed a four-year/$40 million contract with the Mets in December. Mike Zunino and Curt Casali signed one-year deals with the Tampa Bay Rays and San Francisco Giants respectively. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said that it’s “inevitable” that Yadier Molina returns for his 18th season with the St. Louis Cardinals.
If Molina re-signs, Tyler Flowers is the next best free-agent option. One day, reports from credible sources could emerge that talks between the Phillies and Flowers have intensified and that the two sides are close to a deal. Hours later, the team could make it official with an announcement.
This is a nightmare scenario for Phillies fans. It would signal the Phillies were not as serious about re-signing the star catcher as they said they were. Dombrowski would have a hard time spinning this into something it isn’t. If the team wanted to avoid a public relations nightmare, signing an inferior replacement before Realmuto puts pen to paper would not be the way to go.
Phillies pivot and trade for Wilson Contreras
This is a much better alternative to the scenario outlined above and one that the Phillies should consider exploring if Realmuto’s asking price doesn’t come down. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that the Chicago Cubs were “extensively shopping” Wilson Contreras. Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer called the report “fiction” in a recent press conference and with the team trading backup Victor Caratini to the Padres in the Yu Darvish trade, it would be wise for the Cubs to hold on to him.
Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projects that Contreras will make between $5 million and $7.4 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Both Realmuto and Contreras are in the upper echelon of big-league catchers but the gap is sizeable. Among qualified catchers, Realmuto and Contreras rank second (18.8) and seventh (9.9) in fWAR respectively since 2016.
Dombrowski has previously expressed hesitance to trade top prospects this offseason but with the way the market has panned out, he should rethink that stance. Judging by the trades for Darvish, Blake Snell and Francisco Lindor, it doesn’t take much to land a notable talent if the team on the other side is looking to cut costs.
It is in the Phillies’ best interest to explore dealing for Contreras before Realmuto signs. With Realmuto off the board, the Phillies’ leverage in this situation plummets so if it’s clear that Realmuto’s asking price is just too much, Dombrowski should give Hoyer a competitive offer for the 29-year-old catcher before Realmuto signs elsewhere. Perhaps a deal that includes Adonis Medina, Rafael Marchan and a lower-level prospect gets it done at this stage.Embed from Getty Images
A mystery team emerges as Realmuto’s top suitor
The Los Angeles Angels look like the favorites to land Trevor Bauer but what if that falls apart? The 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner is seeking a $200 million contract, per Jon Heyman of RADIO.com. If his price doesn’t come down significantly, the Angels could shift their attention to Realmuto. They were in on McCann and have shown interest in Contreras according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The Angels have an appetite for improving at the catcher’s position, it’s just a matter of how much they are willing to allocate to the position.
Like the Angels, the New York Yankees could go after Realmuto if their top target in free agency signs elsewhere. DJ LeMahieu and the Yankees are likely to reunite again but the Dodgers and Blue Jays remain interested. If either of those teams sign LeMahieu, could the Yankees outbid the Phillies for Realmuto and trade Gary Sanchez to Philadelphia? The chances are slim but it’s not impossible.
Sanchez, who lost the starting catcher’s role in the postseason, is projected to make over $5 million in his second season of arbitration. His hard-hit rate suggests there is some offensive upside but he’s far from an average defensive catcher. While Sanchez is a clear downgrade from Realmuto, slotting him as your Opening Day catcher wouldn’t be as nearly as bad as some of the other alternatives.
A similar scenario could play out for the Atlanta Braves, who desperately need to replace Marcell Ozuna’s bat in the lineup. They could look to trade Travis d’Arnaud if they want to pursue Realmuto, who has previously shown interest in signing with Atlanta. Houston is not far away from Oklahoma City, where Realmuto resides in the offseason so the Astros could intrigue him if they are in. Maybe a team like the Detriot Tigers could shock the world and sign the best catcher in baseball. It’s foolish to completely rule out a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The longer I go on with this, the sillier these scenarios can get. The point is that if Realmuto’s price falls just enough, certain teams you wouldn’t expect to be in on the star catcher could emerge as a serious suitor.
The Toronto Blue Jays trade at least one of their young catchers and sign Realmuto
The Blue Jays are connected to just about every top free agent available, Realmuto included. After reportedly missing out on Lindor, Toronto could be seen as the favorites to sign George Springer. They have needs in center field and at third base, so a Springer signing along with a trade for Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado or Eugenio Suarez is more likely. As previously mentioned, they are also interested in signing LeMahieu.
The Blue Jays’ 2021 payroll, according to Spotrac, currently sits at around $82 million. They could afford to add one superstar and consider adding a second.
The problem is that the Jays prefer to sign or trade for just about every available star on the market over Realmuto. They have a logjam of young catchers on their 40-man roster. Maybe they could trade one or more of Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, Alejandro Kirk, Riley Adams or Gabriel Moreno to acquire a cheaper bat or pitching help and sign Realmuto.
The Washington Nationals outbid the Phillies for Realmuto
Realmuto to the Nationals doesn’t make much sense. Then again, the Nats decided to pay Stephen Strasburg over Anthony Rendon last offseason. That didn’t make much sense but they did it anyway. They addressed a need at first base with a trade for Josh Bell and signed Kyle Schwarber to a one-year/ $10 million deal, per Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post.
General manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington media in a recent press conference that the team has been in contact with Jeff Berry, Realmuto’s agent. He was asked if the Nats were in on Realmuto and he declined to answer.
They could use a catcher. Kurt Suzuki is a free agent and Yan Gomes is making six million dollars in 2021. The team is comfortable with Gomes starting 100 games but at the same time, Rizzo said the team needs a middle-of-the-order bat. Does Schwarber fulfill that need or should the Nats look for a bit more than that? Max Scherzer is a free agent after next season but Trea Turner and Juan Soto are set to become more expensive. They might not be able to afford Realmuto.
At the very least, it would be smart to be in on the bidding for Realmuto to drive the price up for the Phillies. Bryce Harper mentioned at the end of the regular season that it could be “tough to swallow for us” if Realmuto leaves Philadelphia for another NL East rival. You can bet it would be even tougher for Harper to see his good friend playing for the team that rejected his services just two years ago.
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