There’s a clear top pair of free agent position players available this winter: J.T. Realmuto and George Springer. Entering the offseason, the MLBTR staff projected five-year, $125MM terms for each, with only starter Trevor Bauer pegged for a higher guarantee. The Blue Jays and Mets are reportedly the strongest possibilities to land Springer, but Realmuto’s market has been less defined to this point. Which teams are in the best position to make a run at the catcher?
A nine-figure deal for Realmuto would be out of character for lower-payroll clubs like the Indians, Marlins, Brewers, Athletics, Pirates and Rays. We can fairly safely rule them out. The rebuilding Orioles aren’t going to make a win-now splash, and the Rangers are selling off pieces this winter.
There are a few more clubs that are generally expected or have already signaled a desire to reduce payroll this offseason. The Reds could stand to upgrade at catcher, but discussions about their offseason have been about subtracting expensive talent, not adding it. The same is true of the division-rival Cubs. There haven’t been many offseason rumblings about the Diamondbacks or Rockies. Both could make sense for Realmuto in theory but it would register as a real surprise if either put forth that kind of offer. The Cardinals are engaged in a contract stalemate with franchise icon Yadier Molina, who would come significantly cheaper. They’re not expected to pivot to Realmuto if talks with Molina fall through.
A handful of others have settled catching situations already. The Mets made sense at the start of the offseason but signed James McCann instead. The Royals and Giants aren’t going to sign Realmuto and displace their respective faces of the franchise. Yasmani Grandal is perhaps the only other catcher in the sport close to Realmuto’s level, so the White Sox are all set. Turning to the remaining thirteen teams:
- Angels: The Angels have very little certainty behind the plate in Max Stassi and Anthony Bemboom. There’s obvious room for an upgrade there, although the Angels are already projected by Roster Resource for a 2021 payroll just $15MM shy of last year’s figure. They still need to upgrade the pitching staff, so it’s possible they roll with a lower-cost group at catcher.
- Astros: The Astros have bigger needs to address in the outfield and bullpen. They were ruled out as potential Realmuto suitors early in the offseason and are instead in advanced discussions with Jason Castro.
- Blue Jays: The Blue Jays have seemingly been linked to every big ticket free agent and trade possibility (Realmuto included) this winter. They’re clearly looking to add high-end talent to help the team take a leap into permanent contention, but that might take the form of a Springer signing instead. Young catchers Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk have promise but might not have enough of a track record for a win-now team. They could be moved if Toronto added Realmuto.
- Braves: This seems highly unlikely. Travis d’Arnaud was excellent in 2020 and GM Alex Anthopolous has shied away from long-term deals since taking over in Atlanta.
- Dodgers: The Dodgers have the flexibility to get into the mix for any elite player. But Will Smith looks like one of the game’s best young catchers. Theoretically, L.A. could sign Realmuto and trade Smith to upgrade other areas of the roster, but that’d be a real stretch.
- Mariners: The Mariners could be an interesting dark horse to make a splash this offseason. There’s room on the books, particularly long-term, and the Seattle front office has spoken of a desire to compete in 2021 after a few seasons of rebuilding. Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens are a decent in-house tandem, so a Realmuto signing is a longshot. But the Mariners are in position to pounce on players they consider special talents and Realmuto certainly qualifies.
- Nationals: The Nationals have been in contact with Realmuto’s camp this winter. He’d be a massive upgrade over the team’s current pairing of Yan Gomes and Tres Barrera. It’s uncertain at best, however, that ownership will give GM Mike Rizzo the financial leash to again dish out a market-setting contract for a top free agent.
- Padres: San Diego acquired Austin Nola at last year’s deadline and seems more likely to look for starting pitching with Mike Clevinger out for 2021 due to a Tommy John surgery.
- Phillies: Realmuto’s former team doesn’t have an obvious replacement if he departs. They tagged him with a qualifying offer and have reportedly made a contract proposal.
- Red Sox: Boston is generally expected to prioritize pitching this winter. Christian Vázquez is one of the sport’s better catchers, so this would be a surprise. The Red Sox have the spending capacity to get into the Realmuto mix, but there’s no indication they have any intention of doing so.
- Tigers: Detroit has no in-house certainty at catcher and the long-term books are pretty open. The Tigers aren’t immediate contenders, making this a weird fit, but the front office could at least explore adding one of the game’s best catchers to work with the prized young pitchers leading the rebuild.
- Twins: As with the Dodgers and Red Sox, Minnesota could theoretically sign Realmuto and trade their quality in-house options (Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers, in this case) for help elsewhere on the roster. But again, it doesn’t seem especially likely.
- Yankees: The Yankees have been focused on re-signing DJ LeMahieu to this point. If LeMahieu winds up signing elsewhere, a Realmuto pursuit would be plausible. The Yankees tendered a contract to Gary Sánchez but it’s anyone’s guess what kind of production they can expect after his dismal 2020 season.
The Angels, Blue Jays, Nationals, Phillies and Yankees seem like the strongest candidates to sign Realmuto, although there are a few long-shot scenarios that could land him in other cities. We’ll turn things over the readership to predict his ultimate destination.