J.T. Realmuto is not just the best catcher in baseball, he is also the biggest free agent of the 2020-21 offseason. Barring an unexpected buyout or non-tender decision, only Trevor Bauer, George Springer, and Realmuto comprise the list of elite free agents. Even though this year’s free agent market will be depressed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the top players still have a chance to ink big contracts. Here are the teams that could sign Realmuto to a big contract this year:
New York Yankees
The New York Yankees looked like a team with a franchise catcher in 2016 and 2017. Gary Sanchez mashed 53 homers in 173 games as a backstop over two seasons and captured a Silver Slugger in 2017. Since then… not so much. Sanchez has only hit 62 home runs over his last 244 games to go along with a .200 batting average and .296 on-base percentage. These are substandard offensive numbers for a catcher whose strength is not defense.
Sanchez clearly has big time talent, but both the team and their former all-star are in need of a change. The Yankees are a team in contention for a World Series and have so much outfield depth that Springer will likely not be a consideration. An upgrade behind the plate would be a major plus for the team. Realmuto’s swing in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium might average 30 home runs to go along with his plus-plus-defense. He would be the best catcher in Yankees pinstripes since Jorge Posada (and possibly Thurman Munson).
Maybe Not: No team in sports has a reputation for spending like the New York Yankees. Brian Cashman, however, may want to hold off on adding Realmuto in 2021. They are already projected to have a payroll over $200 million throughout the next three years. Re-signing D.J. Lemahieu and Masahiro Tanaka will likely be their offseason priorities. Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela are also slated for arbitration this year and are logical candidates for contract extensions.
New York Mets
The biggest threat to the Phillies retention of J.T. Relamuto are the New York Mets. MLB is expected to improve the sale of the team to Steve Cohen. The billionaire will become the richest owner in baseball and may move fast in his effort to improve the team. He is already a minority owner of the franchise, allowing for a familiarity with their operations and quick-thinking in adding a cornerstone.
There would be no better play to Mets fans than to sign a big free agent away from a division rival. If Cohen decides that signing Realmuto is his top offseason priority, the Phillies chances at retaining the catcher are slim. The Mets do have a couple of key players slated for arbitration in 2021 that will push their payroll closer to the luxury tax threshold. Edwin Diaz, Michael Conforto, and Noah Syndergaard headline a group that will cost the team more than fans realize.
Maybe Not: Even with Realmuto, the Mets are at least two years away from proper contention in a competitive NL East. Their pitching staff is a mess (beyond Jacob DeGrom). Cohen would be wise to bring in more starting pitching or stand pat and restock after Brodie Van Wagenen’s depleting trades.
J.T. Realmuto was born and raised in suburban Oklahoma City. The metropolis is a three-hour drive to Dallas, a city that opened a brand new ballpark in 2020. The Texas Rangers did not get to pack their new stadium with fans this year, but they have a chance to get a quasi-do-over in the inaugural season of Globe Life Field in 2021.
Signing a midwestern native and top caliber free agent could draw fans to a team looking to regain its relevancy in the AL West. While the Rangers may not have the deep pockets of the Mets or Yankees, they are the biggest midwestern market that has a need for catcher and the ability to use a local angle in their pitch to the catcher.
Maybe Not: The team did call up backstop Sam Huff this September. Their number two prospect (according to MLB.com) hit .355 over ten games. The Rangers may be more interested in prying free agent George Springer from the rival Astros.
Baseball’s most hated team would put themselves in the good graces of the players union if they added a couple of big contracts to their payroll. Money talks and Houston’s ability to spend would erase some of the animosity accrued in their recent sign stealing scandal. Say what you want about former Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, but he positioned the team to go after a player like J.T. Realmuto in 2020.
Trevor Bauer’s beef with the Houston Astros likely rules him out of the team’s plans, leaving Realmuto as the biggest potential upgrade to their roster. If George Springer goes to another organization, the outfielder will join Josh Reddick and Michael Brantley as free agents. Houston’s payroll will likely drop significantly in 2022 as well. Justin Verlander and Zach Greinke are scheduled to come off the books that year.
Maybe Not: Carlos Correa is slated for free agency in 2022 and the team might consider locking up the talented, yet injury-prone shortstop to a contract extension in 2020. Adding a pitcher to ease the loss of the injured Verlander for the 2021 season may be in their plans as well.
Unlike these other teams, the Phillies have more to lose than gain if Realmuto signs elsewhere. If he stay in Philadelphia, John Middleton will keep a top talent in red pinstripes. If the catcher inks a deal with another team, the organization will lose their “stupid money” bravado and prolong this interminable rebuild.
For starters: their in-house backup catcher is Andrew Knapp. They also have a fanbase who sees former Phillies prospect Sixto Sanchez dominating just two years after he was traded to the Miami Marlins and wants to keep their ace backstop. They also could see last year’s big signee, Bryce Harper, lose patience with a front office that has been unable to fill out a playoff-caliber roster.
They traded for the best catcher in baseball in 2019. He has played like the best catcher in baseball. Now is the time to pay the best catcher in baseball what he deserves. If he leaves town, the Phillies could be facing attendance problems for reasons beyond the coronavirus pandemic.
Maybe Not: If the Phillies do not re-sign Realmuto, look for the franchise to pivot and sign more moderate free agents like Didi Gregorious, Andrelton Simmons, or Marcus Stroman. Big ticket names like Bauer or Springer are a possibility, but this roster will need depth to patch a leaky 40-man roster that will be exposed over 162 games.
If Realmuto leaves, the Phillies will need to make something happen to save face for their fans and Bryce Harper. Signing multiple players to contracts in a depressed market might just be the trick and a chance to turn “stupid money” into smart dollars.