By Alec Walt
The 2020 MLB season will go down as one of the strangest in history, and it continued into the offseason. We’ve officially entered 2021, and we have no confirmation on a start date or key rule changes. The current CBA is also set to expire at the end of the season and the two sides have been incredibly slow to get deals done. As we wait, so do the top free agents.
J.T. Realmuto has been the MLB’s best catcher for the last four seasons. He was selected to the 2018 and 2019 All-Star games and broke his personal home run and RBI records in 2019. He was on pace to break both again in 2020.
It’s rare to see the best in the business at a premier position go into the New Year without a job. Let’s take a look at where that next job could be.
5 – Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers have entered A.J. Hinch era and he’s taken over a team that’s years away from contention. He’s preached bringing a winning culture to Detroit, but this team remains in rebuild mode with most of its top prospects getting the call to the majors within the next two seasons. The time is now to add a veteran presence to help guide the upcoming young core.
Adding Realmuto as that veteran presence makes a ton of sense. Looking at the next wave of Tigers, some of their best talent is starting pitchers. Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal are all 24 or younger and should secure a spot in the rotation by the end of next season. Realmuto is one of the best catchers in baseball and would significantly help these young arms grow into professional pitchers. He can even provide some pop in the middle of a weak lineup.
JDF Sports own Patrick Murnane beat me to it! Check out his video on five crazy MLB free agency predictions below!
4 – New York Yankees
The New York Yankees enter 2021 with Gary Sanchez behind the plate and that’s no longer a luxury. He’s been a defensive liability his whole career and now we’re seeing an offensive decline. Sanchez hit .147 last season and finished below .200 in two of the last three years. It’s time to reconsider the future at catcher.
To add salt to the wound, Sanchez lost his job catching for the top of the rotation. The Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a historic pitching contract last offseason and Kyle Higashioka became his personal catcher by the end of the season and into the postseason. Aaron Boone can no longer rely on Sanchez in must-win games.
Signing Realmuto would fix a ton of the Yankees catching problems. They’d sign a quality bat, game manager, and defensive presence. Cost could affect this, as the Yankees have two contracts worth $29 or more million for the next eight seasons, but the Yankees have a long track record of getting the guys they want. Realmuto’s name should be on that list.
3 – Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays are interested in everyone this winter and adding additional catching depth remains in play. Danny Jansen looked like a potential cornerstone a few seasons ago, but his .183 average last season should have the Blue Jays looking for other options. Signing Realmuto gives them the depth and a veteran presence they’re looking for.
The Blue Jays made it clear last offseason they’re not afraid to spend in free agency to surround this young core. They signed Hyun-Jin Ryu last offseason and in his first season he was nominated for a Cy Young. That award went to Shane Bieber, but the Blue Jays enter 2021 with an ace at the top of the rotation. All they need is that final veteran presence.
The time to spend money on a free agent is now for the Blue Jays. Vlad Guerrero Jr, Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette remain under team control for roughly five more seasons, so they can add a veteran while they’re playing on affordable contracts. A veteran presence should also only help the development of young starters Nate Pearson, Simeon Woods Richardson and Alek Manoah. They all should have key roles in this rotation within the next two seasons.
Realmuto is the perfect veteran for this young team.
2 – Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals lost Anthony Rendon last offseason and the offense struggled with his departure. They added Josh Bell this offseason, but the Nationals are still a bat away from completing their 2021 lineup. They can add one and fill their catching void with Realmuto.
Realmuto signing in Washington would be his smoothest transition if he was to sign with a new team. He’s played his entire career in the National League East, so he’d catch one of the best rotations in baseball with knowledge on every division lineup he faces. It also slots the Nationals above the Phillies in the division.
The Nationals have the budget and the need to sign Realmuto. Backup catcher Tres Barrera has played two MLB games, so catching depth is a priority heading into 2021. After Bryce Harper left for Philadelphia two seasons ago, Mike Rizzo would love to steal Realmuto away from a rival. It’s time to give this rotation another shot at a World Series. Signing Realmuto gives them that opportunity.
1 – Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies made a massive trade two years ago acquiring JT Realmuto and they’d be wise to not let him leave. They had to trade Sixto Sanchez to acquire him, and his dominant rookie season gives them even more reason to sign him. Sanchez finished the 2020 season with 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA. He averaged over seven strikeouts per nine innings and locked in a role at the top of the Marlins rotation in 2021.
The Phillies enter 2021 in an odd position. They have a win-now star, manager, and president of baseball operations, but not a win-now roster. In a loaded division with the Braves, Mets, Nationals, and Marlins, there’s little room for error. Letting Realmuto walk crushes their chances at a division crown.
Dave Dombrowski joined MLB Network Radio Tuesday morning and discussed the priorities for the 2021 roster. He’s aware of the catching void.
— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) January 5, 2021
Dombrowski’s hire shows the Phillies are willing to contend. He spent major dollars in Boston and Detroit, so there’s strong reason to believe he’ll pay Realmuto. The Phillies can’t let him walk. The last thing they need is no Realmuto while facing Sanchez, who’s just entering the pre-arbitration process. Get the deal done!