News broke Tuesday that All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto has informed the Miami Marlins that he won’t sign an extension with the club, and his agent anticipates a trade before spring.
In 2018, Realmuto made his first All-Star appearance and batted .277 with a career-high 21 home runs in 125 games while leading all catchers in wins above replacement at 4.8.
The list of suitors will be lengthy. Who wouldn’t want the best hitting catcher in the game on their roster, after all? There are some teams who will be better fits than others, but don’t be surprised when one of the following five contenders pulls off one of the offseason’s biggest blockbusters.
With superstar outfielder Bryce Harper hitting free agency, and the Nationals appearing comfortable with their outfield depth if he leaves, Realmuto would fix a more glaring issue. Nationals catchers slashed .209/.299/.312 in 2018 with an underwhelming Matt Wieters getting the bulk of playing time.
Wieters is a free agent and the Nationals were one of Realmuto’s most aggressive pursuers on the trade market – even though a deal ultimately fell through. Whether Harper stays or leaves, the Nats can be expected to enter the Realmuto sweepstakes once again. They aren’t about to rebuild as long as Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and others are under contract.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Similarly, the Dodgers aren’t about to exit the contender’s arena any time soon and their incumbent backstop Yasmani Grandal is no longer under contract. Realmuto would be an upgrade over Grandal, who has been a nice source of power from the position during his tenure in Los Angeles.
Austin Barnes regressed mightily in 2018 and top catching prospect Keibert Ruiz hasn’t played above Double-A. If Ruiz isn’t dangled as a trade chip, he could be ready to take over for Realmuto when his contract ends. Either way, targeting Realmuto would be a good way for the Dodgers to pivot at the position.
The Astros hold a $15-million club option on 34-year-old Brian McCann, and it doesn’t include a buyout. If the Astros decline the option, which seems likely, going after Realmuto makes too much sense. Additionally, Martin Maldonado – acquired from the Angels at the deadline – is hitting free agency as well, leaving Max Stassi as the only catcher remaining.
Like the Nationals, the Astros were one of the teams last offseason to engage in discussions with the Marlins for their prized catcher. Their deep prospect pool should also give them an advantage over others in trade negotiations. Getting younger and improving an already potent offense in one fell swoop would be an incredible coup for a team that seems poised to be a perennial contender for the long haul.
Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout needs support, and the Angels have an opening behind the dish after trading away the aforementioned Maldonado. The Angels’ farm system has been slowly improving to the point where they may be able to cobble together an offer that will make a trade for Realmuto work.
Adding Realmuto to the heart of the lineup won’t address their dire need for pitching help, but it will solidify a batting order that already features Trout, Justin Upton, Shohei Ohtani (at DH), Andrelton Simmons, and bounce-back candidates Kole Calhoun and Zack Cozart.
While Erik Kratz offered a nice narrative in the postseason, neither he nor Manny Pina can really be counted on to provide the punch at the plate that Realmuto can. Stephen Vogt is still in the organization, but the 34-year-old has been dealing with a boatload of injuries and can’t be expected to rebound.
Acquiring Realmuto would reunite him with former Marlins teammate – and likely NL MVP – Christian Yelich, too. The Brewers’ prospect cupboard was pillaged a bit in trades for Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop, Joakim Soria, and Yelich, but that shouldn’t stop them from making a push. It would also go a long way toward taking the next step after an outstanding 2018 that saw the Brewers reach the NLCS.
The defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox could be another potential suitor for Realmuto, They received the worst offensive production from catchers in all of baseball last season (-2.1 WAR, according to FanGraphs). The problem is that they seem committed to Christian Vazquez’s defensive prowess, and also have Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart competing for playing time. You can never count Dave Dombrowski out, but the Red Sox seem slightly unlikely – especially considering their barren farm system – to match the Marlins’ demands.