Although potential Hall of Famers Buster Posey and Yadier Molina are among the most decorated catchers in baseball history, it appears the two 30-somethings have given way to a new guard at the position. J.T. Realmuto, Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras stand out as the most valuable behind-the-plate building blocks in today’s game, owing to performance, age and affordable control. The Brewers’ Yasmani Grandal also belongs in the current class of elite backstops, but the fact that he’s 30 years old, expensive and only signed through this season works against him in comparison to Realmuto, Contreras and Sanchez.
Among those three, the longest big league track record belongs to the Phillies’ Realmuto, who’s in his age-28 season. The athletic Realmuto broke out with the Marlins in 2016 and proceeded to rack up 11.3 fWAR through last year, trailing only Posey and Grandal at his position. He’s fresh off back-to-back 4.0-fWAR seasons and is on a similar pace in his first year as a Phillie.
So far in his new digs, Realmuto has accounted for 2.0 fWAR through 208 plate appearances. While Realmuto’s offensive production has dropped from where it was over the previous three seasons (115 wRC+), his 102 wRC+ remains far above average for his position (89). He’s also an all-world defensive player who possesses far more speed than you’d expect a catcher to have. If there’s one check against Realmuto, it’s that he’s only under control for another season after this one, in which he’s earning $5.9MM.
No full-time catcher has fared better at the plate this season than the hard-hitting Sanchez, whose 154 wRC+ ranks 18th among all players with at least 100 PA. The 26-year-old has mashed 17 home runs, good for a fifth-place tie, to put an uninspiring 2018 behind him. Sanchez combined for 7.5 fWAR from 2016-17, his first two seasons, but fell to 1.7 in ’18 and sits well behind Realmuto this season (1.2). Although Sanchez has a big arm, he’s not in Realmuto’s stratosphere as an overall defender. However, Sanchez is making barely over the league minimum this year and comes with three more seasons of control via arbitration.
Contreras, who turned 27 on May 13, has been a revelation at the plate since he debuted in 2016. Dating back to then, Contreras’ 119 wRC+ ranks second among backstops (only Sanchez’s 128 has been better), while his 7.5 fWAR is eighth. He’s at 152 and 1.7 in those categories this year, having swatted 12 homers and gotten on base at a 40 percent clip. Although Contreras has not gotten rave reviews behind the plate this season or for most of his career, his offense, age and affordability are all huge pluses. Like Sanchez, he’s in his final pre-arb season and controllable through 2022.
Considering all of the above factors, which of these three catchers would you want to build a team around?
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