The arrival of Major League Baseball's offseason means that, among other things, it's now the time of the year when we're going to be ranking all kinds of things -- free agents, prospects, and so on. The process got underway last week, when we rolled out our annual free-agent rankings. This year's list ran 60 deep, a nod toward the bloated free-agent class that resulted from teams declining affordable club options in a fiscally conservative response to the pandemic.
Beginning today, we'll be taking the next step with our free-agent rankings, breaking things down on a position-by-position basis. That process starts with our top five catchers.
J.T. Realmuto Philadelphia Phillies C
|(No. 2 overall) 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.|
James McCann Chicago White Sox C
|(No. 15 overall) The two winters ago, the Tigers non-tendered McCann without hearing much backlash. He had frequently underperformed at the plate, and he was a liability behind it despite his strong arm. Now, after a pair of successful seasons with the White Sox, McCann will hit the market as one of the better backstops available. He continued his hot-hitting way from the year prior, stinging the ball time and again to bring his Chicago career line to .276/.334/.474 (114 OPS+) in 587 plate appearances. Equally as impressive were the gains McCann made behind the dish. He spent the winter working with Jerry Narron to improve his presentation on balls down, and it's clear that attention to his craft paid off, as he graded as an above-average framer for the first time in his career. It's fair to be skeptical about McCann's approach, or his newfound defensive prowess; it's also fair to concede that he looks like a different player than who he was a few years ago, and that he should be rewarded with a multi-year contact and a chance to be a team's No. 1 backstop|
Yadier Molina St. Louis Cardinals C
|(No. 24 overall) Molina is, understandably given his age and the mileage he's put on his body from catching nearly every day for so long, deep into his decline phase. He hit the ball about as hard on average as Eric Sogard this season, and he's never been one to walk. That puts a low ceiling on his offensive upside, which in turn puts more pressure on accurately assessing his defensive value. How do you put a dollar amount on the soft skills Molina is believed to possess? Dunno, but good luck.|
Jason Castro Los Angeles Angels C
|(Unranked in top 60) Castro's 5-for-28 performance to end the season with the Padres sunk his seasonal numbers and overshadowed the fact that he posted a higher exit velocity in 2020 than he did the preceding year. Castro is considered a skilled framer and staff handler, giving him just enough two-way value to remain an option against right-handed pitching for teams in need.|
Wilson Ramos New York Mets C
|(Unranked in top 60) Ramos is a subpar framer who is coming off a down offensive season. He's hit for a 113 OPS+ since the start of 2018, however, and he should find work with a team that prioritizes offense.|