With ample cause, veteran catcher J.T. Realmuto was ranked a strong No. 2 in our 2020-21 free agent rankings. Here's what our own R.J. Anderson wrote about Realmuto in ranking him second only to George Springer in this winter's class:
Realmuto is coming off the second-best offensive season of his career, hitting .266/.349/.491 with 11 homers in 47 games. Perhaps the best way to sum up Realmuto is to acknowledge that he hit the ball 95 mph or harder as frequently in 2020 as Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, and Pete Alonso did ... and that he accomplished that feat while playing above-average defense behind the plate. Realmuto is more athletic than the standard backstop, and he has averaged seven steals per pop since his first full season. If you're looking for nits to pick, you can bemoan his single-digit walk rate, or his propensity for swinging and missing. Otherwise, the best a fearmonger can do is point to the dicey history of 30-something catchers. Realmuto, nearing his age-30 season, has enough going for him that he's going to get paid -- and he's likely going to be worth it.
There's little doubt that Realmuto, age 29, is going to wind up significantly improving the team that signs him and continue doing so, likely for the life of whatever contract he winds up inking. At this point, though, his market seems to be getting compressed. That's because the Mets have reportedly forged a $40 million agreement with free agent catcher James McCann. After Steve Cohen assumed power as new Mets owner, the Queenslanders for Realmuto stood as a rare intersection of positional need and assumed willingness to spend. Now that they have McCann in the fold, said positional need is no more.
And what of the incumbent Phillies? Without question they need Realmuto back, but consider the recent introductory remarks by newly hired team president Dave Dombrowski. Dombrowski said there's interest in bringing back Realmuto to Philly, but he also suggested that payroll will be going down from (non-prorated) 2020 levels. The Phillies shed some salary already via other free agent departures, but the lack of specifics means we don't know how much ownership is willing to spend this offseason while staying under 2020 levels. Right now, the Phillies project to be about $60 million under that 2020 figure, but, again, how close to the line are they willing to go? That's enough room to afford Realmuto, but that assumes they're willing to invest a sizable chunk of that $60 million or so. They may well not be. Also bear in mind that the Phillies need a shortstop and multiple pieces added to the pitching staff.
So if we consider the Phillies to be a "maybe" in terms of Realmuto, who else is left? The Blue Jays have been a reliable source of Realmuto rumors this winter. Coming off a winning season and playoff berth, the Jays are by all accounts looking to complement their young core with more veteran additions in the service of sustained relevance. At first blush, they seem an odd fit for Realmuto given that they have plenty of catching depth on hand. That said, Realmuto would no doubt be an upgrade over what's in-house, and his addition would also allow the Jays to address other roster needs by trading one or more of Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen, and Reese McGuire. In light of recent events with the Mets and recent implications with the Phillies, maybe Toronto is the leading contender to land Realmuto.
Elsewhere, the Nationals merit contemplation. GM Mike Rizzo, to his credit, seems to be in perpetual "win-now" mode, and that's the expectation once again. A pivot is certainly possible after the disappointing attempt at a title defense in 2020, but the Nats history suggests they'll oil their guns for war once again. Last season, Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes again shared duties behind the plate in D.C., but Suzuki is himself a free agent. As for Gomes, he's produced at solid-by-catcher standards at the plate over the last three seasons, but he'll turn 34 in July. Even if Gomes isn't headed for steep decline right away, he's not on Realmuto's level. It's also worth noting that Gomes has made at least 100 starts at catcher only once since 2014. Barring a decision to retool, the Nats are candidates to seriously pursue Realmuto.
Beyond that, we're left with longshots. Assuming Yadier Molina lands elsewhere, the Cardinals would be an ideal fit for Realmuto. In addition to plugging the hole left by Molina, he'd be another impact bat, which is something St. Louis badly needs. However, all signs point to the Cardinals' unwillingness to spend at premium free agent levels. Likewise, the Astros could badly use Realmuto, but owner Jim Crane's commitment to winning at this stage is dubious in the extreme.
Could the Yankees enter the picture? That would require them to move on from Gary Sanchez. While Sanchez struggled badly last season, it's easy to dismiss the outputs from a 60-game regular season that was played during a global pandemic. As recently as 2019, Sanchez hit 34 home runs and put up an OPS+ of 118, so it's hard to see the Yankees cutting bait so soon after he performed at an All-Star level. On another level, the Yankees are prioritizing DJ LeMahieu's return.
The Dodgers? It seems unlikely, as they're operating with an eye on the luxury tax, and of course they already have Will Smith at catcher. However, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic floats an interesting hypothetical (which he emphasizes is pure speculation on his part). Say free agent Justin Turner signs elsewhere. The Dodgers could respond by moving Smith to the hot corner, where he spent significant time in the minors. That, in turn, would open up catcher for Realmuto. All of that is unlikely to come to pass, but just the same let's assign longshot status to L.A.
So where does that leave our reading of the post-Mets Realmuto market? Let us idly summarize …
The leading contender: Blue Jays
In the mix: Phillies, Nationals
Maybe, possibly on the fringes: Cardinals, Astros
Included mostly for precious, enriching clicks: Yankees, Dodgers
Now let us permit market forces, such as they are, to unscramble the scrambled egg that is the current J.T. Realmuto situation.