Phillies Seem to Have Light Competition for J.T. Realmuto
When the 2020-2021 MLB offseason began, the Phillies seemed to have dropped the ball big. All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto was headed for free agency, after the Phillies failed to come to the long-rumored agreement between the two sides. Steve Cohen bought the Mets, and since he was baseball's only owner who did not lose money in 2020, seemed poised to write Realmuto a big check. The Mets will write at least one player a big check, but it will not be Realmuto. After signing James McCann, the Mets filled their need at catcher and may instead turn to Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer or outfielder George Springer. The move begs the question: Who is actually in on Realmuto?
With the Mets out, the Phillies might actually be the frontrunners once again. The competition seems to have less urgency to sign Realmuto in particular, though they seek to add a nice player. And there are enough of them out there. Here is a look at possible teams involved.
The money seems to be out of the Nationals league.
Why is that? Well, they let their own star third baseman Anthony Rendon walk just last year. The only money coming off the books is outfielder Adam Eaton, who signed with the Chicago White Sox, and free agent pitcher Anibal Sanchez. The Nationals will have to replace Eaton and replace Sanchez. Would they be able to do both and then sign someone at a position that is already covered?
The fact the Nationals are not connected to many other big names makes me think that they are not true players in the Realmuto sweepstakes.
Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays seem to be out to add a star player. That star player does not necessarily have to be at the catching position. With a young, impressive core, the Blue Jays seem to be looking to add veteran leadership.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet Canada names a number of veteran players that the Blue Jays could sign, including Realmuto and Didi Gregorius. But the other names mentioned for the Mets were on this too, as was D.J. LeMahieu and Marcell Ozuna. The Blue Jays were connected to trade interest in Jean Segura, too.
So where the veteran leadership comes from, it sounds like the Blue Jays are flexible. Is it enough for them to overpay for someone like Realmuto to get him to Canada, often a less-desirable location for free agents? That remains to be seen.
Los Angeles Angels. The Angels have some needs. But they have also spent a lot of money... could they go catcher with that money when pitching need is so much greater? Mark Feinsand of MLB.com stated it this way:
Los Angeles spent big last offseason to bring in Anthony Rendon, but the Angels’ pitching continues to be its Achilles' heel. Trevor Bauer is the top starter available this winter, but he could cost more than Realmuto. Might the Angels look to sign Realmuto to add another impact bat while hoping his game-calling skills can help the pitching staff?
It sounds like a "maybe", and not one with a large amount of emphasis. The Angels will be in on pitching, most specifically Bauer, and perhaps be the team that lands him. They probably won't have money for someone like Realmuto afterward.
New York Yankees. They have plenty of expensive position players, and they also have Gary Sanchez behind the plate, just renewed. Could the Yankees move Sanchez if they wanted to bring in Realmuto? Easily. But the Yankees seem to have a need for an infielder, and even the Yankees do not have unlimited funds. They might be okay at the catching position. They remain in the rumor mill on Realmuto because they are the Yankees and seem to be in on every star. But this is far from a heavy pursuit.
St. Louis Cardinals. Long-time catcher Yadier Molina is a free agent at age 38. The only argument against bringing Molina back is "he's old in baseball years". Yet, Molina appears to have a ton of interest from teams, mostly as a second catcher. They will need a catcher; backup Andrew Knitzer is their main option. But will the Cardinals spend for Realmuto? So far there has not any real connection to Realmuto other than, "Hey, the Cardinals need a catcher".
Final Prediction: I think the Mets backed off of Realmuto and went with McCann over the concerns about durability at the catching position. In 2019 and 2020 Realmuto finished the season with an injury. And while Realmuto is very capable of playing some first base, his great value comes from his ability to call a game while hitting at the position. Some argue this is unfair and it puts career catchers at a disadvantage. However, if Realmuto switched positions, he would not have the same kind of interest or the same kind of bat that caused a Carlos Santana to move from behind the plate.
I think the Phillies are in the best position to sign Realmuto. They perhaps read the market right, and since they still appear to be willing to spend that money on Realmuto, they will make a deal. But the Phillies cannot wait forever. They will need another catcher if it is not Realmuto. Unless the Phillies trade for someone else first, I think Realmuto will be in red pinstripes when pitchers and catchers report, whenever that is.